Jan. 8 —
An asteroid large enough to wipe out France
hurtled past Earth at a distance of a half-million miles just days
after scientists spotted it. The asteroid, dubbed 2001 YB5, came
within 520,000 miles of Earth on Monday, approximately twice the
distance of the moon.
DOZENS OF ASTEROIDS pass close by the Earth each year, though 2001
YB5 was closer than most. On Friday, for instance, an asteroid known as
2001 UU92 will pass within 11 million miles of Earth.
Asteroid 2001 YB5, estimated to be 1,000 feet (300 meters)
across, was traveling about 68,000 mph (108,000 kilometers per hour)
relative to the Earth when it zipped past.
“It’s a fairly substantial rock. If it had hit us at that sort of
speed, you would be taking out a medium-size country, France, I suppose,
or Texas, or something of that order,” said Jay Tate, director of the
Spaceguard Center in Wales.
the NASA’s Near-Earth Asteroid Tracking program discovered 2001 YB5 on
Dec. 26. Soon after, astronomers calculated the asteroid’s orbit and
determined there was no danger it would strike Earth.
Had it been on a collision course, it would have created “one
of the worst disasters in human history,” said Steven Pravdo, the
Near-Earth Asteroid Tracking project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion
Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
we have done about it? The answer is, not much,” Pravdo said.
As astronomers discover more and more near-Earth
asteroids, they seek a standardized way of alerting the public to the
hazard they might pose. Among programs already in place is the Spaceguard
Center’s Comet and Asteroid Information Network, which began work Jan.
NEW NAME FOR MISSILE
The Pentagon says
the organization in charge of developing a national missile defense system
has been given a new name befitting its higher status: the Missile Defense
Agency. The agency was previously known as the Ballistic Missile Defense
The BMDO’s director, Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronald
Kalish, will continue in the same role at the renamed agency and report to
the same undersecretary of defense, Pete Aldridge, the Defense Department
said. The agency will require “expanded responsibility and authority” in
order to develop a workable missile defense system, Defense Secretary
Donald Rumsfeld said in a memo dated Wednesday.
In the memo, Rumsfeld outlined steps for streamlining the Pentagon’s
management procedures as they would apply to the Missile Defense Agency.
The agency is in charge of developing a multilayered shield to protect the
United States and its allies from ballistic missile attacks — a shield
that could involve ground-, sea- and space-based interceptors as well as
The Bush administration has elevated the priority for developing
such a system, saying that the United States faces a growing threat from
missile-equipped rogue nations. However, skeptics worry that the effort
could touch off a new arms race, with rivals developing capabilities that
could overwhelm the antimissile system.