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Large Asteroid to Flyby Earth Wednesday

A screenshot from a NASA video illustrates how far asteroid 1998 OR2 will be from earth when it flies by. Scientists say the 2km-wide asteroid will safely pass at a distance of 6.3 million kilometers from Earth. (Courtesy NASA)

An asteroid just over two kilometers wide will pass close to earth Wednesday. But scientists with the U.S. space agency, NASA, say the object poses no threat to the planet.

The asteroid is known as 1998 OR2, named for the year it was first discovered. It will safely pass at a distance of 6.3 million kilometers from Earth — about 16 times the distance between the Earth and the moon.

NASA scientists say by astronomical standards, that distance still classifies the asteroid as a “near-earth” object and worth watching.

The space agency considers objects that pass within 48 million kilometers of our planet a “near-earth” object. NASA maintains a planetary defense coordination office that keeps track of such objects and plots their courses through space.

In an interview posted on the space agency’s website, NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies manager Paul Chodas say they believe they have found and tracked about 90% of the near-earth objects that are at least a kilometer wide and could pose a threat to earth.

Chodas says none they have found pose a significant threat to earth. But NASA’s Planetary Defense officer, Lindley Johnson, says any object impacting Earth large enough to do significant damage is extremely rare — but inevitable.

Should such an object be identified, the scientists say there are a variety of plans to protect early, depending on the lead time.

Those plans range from sending a spacecraft to nudge the object onto a course safely away from Earth, or, if there was much less time, using nuclear weapons to break up or destroy the object.

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