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Monday, 29 July, 2002, 11:51 GMT 12:51 UK
Asteroid to miss - this time around
2002 NT7, Courtesy Klet Observatory
It has been called the most threatening object in space

Astronomers have ruled out an Earth impact from asteroid 2002 NT7 on 1 February 2019 - but they say, as yet, future collisions have not been completely excluded.

2002 NT7, a two-kilometre-wide (1.4 miles) chunk of rock, was discovered on 9 July. Initial estimates of its orbit suggested there was a small chance of it colliding with our planet in 17 years' time.

However, the latest observations accumulated over the last few days have confirmed the asteroid will fly harmlessly by.

Dr Don Yeomans, of the US space agency's (Nasa) Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said: "We can now rule out any impact possibilities for 1 February 2019."

Uncharted space

But further work needs to be done to confirm that 2002 NT7 is not a threat further into the future.

Dr Yeomans added: "While we cannot completely rule out an impact possibility for 1 February 2060, it seems very likely that this possibility will soon be ruled out as well."

Analysts expect that it will be several more weeks before new observations allow a much better picture to emerge about 2002 NT7's future movements.

This is because no past observations - that could be used to pinpoint its trajectory - have been found in astronomical archives. This is because the asteroid's unusual orbit takes it into regions of space that are seldom surveyed.

But astronomers say that their concern about 2002 NT7 has not evaporated completely.

Media debate

According to Dr Benny Peiser, of Liverpool John Moores University, UK, we should not be celebrating too quickly.

"It would be prudent to caution interested observers that further observations in the near future could result in new impact dates," he told BBC News Online.

"There is even a very small possibility that the next set of observations may lead to new impact dates and a prolonged period of fluctuating impact probabilities, before the object will eventually be dropped," he said.

The intense worldwide interest in 2002 NT7 has prompted a debate in the astronomical community.

Following the object's discovery, and the realisation that it could strike the Earth in 2019, astronomers decided to make no announcement whilst they monitored the situation.

Some astronomers have been unhappy with what they see as alarmist reporting in the media, and they say that the policy on public disclosure of such information should be reviewed.

See also:

24 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
24 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
21 Mar 00 | Science/Nature
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