New data shows asteroid will miss Earth,
NASA says

Copyright 1998 The Associated Press
March 12, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Relax, Earthlings. That asteroid streaking toward our planet is going to miss by miles. Actually, by 600,000 miles, according to new calculations.

Just a day after a group of astronomers reported that an asteroid was expected to pass within just 30,000 miles of the Earth's center and could possibly collide, astronomers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said that their calculations -- based on newly uncovered data -- indicate the asteroid will pass no closer than 600,000 miles away.

"We are saying now that the probability of an impact is zero," said Donald K. Yeomans of JPL.

Yeomans said he and fellow astronomer Paul W. Chodas dug out some eight-year-old pictures of the heavens taken by the Palomar Observatory telescope and found that the photos contained images of asteroid 1997 XF11, which was then just an unidentified point of light.

Using the 1990 pictures, along with recent observations of the streaking space rock, Yeomans and Chodas recalculated the orbital path of the asteroid and found that it would miss the Earth by 600,000 miles in its closest approach in October 2028.

The astronomers who made the original prediction could not immediately be reached for comment.

On Wednesday, the International Astronomical Union issued a notice that the asteroid was expected to pass within only 30,000 miles of the Earth's center and that "the chance of an actual collision is small, but one is not entirely out of the question."

Those calculations, by Brian G. Marsden of the IAU, were based on measurements taken last week and included less of the object's orbital path than the old, archival pictures from Palomar.

Yeomans said that after hearing of the other IAU forecast, astronomers at JPL sought out the archival photos, and did the new calculations.

The astronomers said the new orbital path of the asteroid means it will pass outside the orbit of the moon and "poses no threat to the Earth whatsoever."

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