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Thursday, August 6, 1998 Published at 18:50 GMT 19:50 UK


New asteriods found

Three images of 1998 OH taken on three days

Two new asteroids have been found but fortunately they are no threat to Earth, yet. Our science editor Dr David Whitehouse reports.

A sky-survey telescope based on in Hawaii has discovered two new, mile-wide asteroids heading toward Earth's orbit. But unlike the movies, neither is expected to come anywhere near our planet for decades at least.

The asteroids, named 1998 OH and 1998 OR2, were found last month by a remote-controlled telescope called Neat on the Hawaiian island of Maui.

The asteroids' precise orbits in space have not been determined. Preliminary indications suggest that 1998 OH could get no closer than 3 million miles from Earth - about 12 times the distance from Earth to the moon.

The other asteroid, 1998 OR2, could get no closer than 1.7 million miles from Earth.

So far, asteroid scientists have found about 125 "potentially hazardous" asteroids and comets that periodically pass near Earth's orbit. Some scientists believe there could be as many as 2,000.

"These discoveries come on the heels of last month's installation of new state-of-the-art computing and data analysis hardware that speeds our search for near-Earth objects," said Neat Project Manager Dr. Steven Pravdo of Nasa.

"This shows that our efforts to find near Earth objects are paying off."

The newly discovered asteroids 1998 OH and 1998 OR2 are both large enough to cause global effects if one impacted Earth, and both are classified as "potentially hazardous objects" because they pass periodically near Earth's orbit.

"Our goal is to discover and track all the potentially dangerous asteroids and comets long before they are likely to approach Earth," said Neat Principal Investigator Eleanor Helin.

"The discovery of these two asteroids illustrates how Neat is doing precisely what it is supposed to do."

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