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UH Pan-STARRS telescope discovers "potentially hazardous" asteroid

By Gregg K. Kakesako

LAST UPDATED: 12:02 p.m. HST, Sep 27, 2010

The University of Hawaii's Pan-STARRS PS1 telescope has discovered an asteroid described as a "potentially hazardous object."

The asteroid, discovered by the university's Pan-STARRS PS1 telescope on Haleakala, is expected to come within 4 million miles of Earth in mid-October.

The asteroid was discovered earlier this month when it was  20 million miles away and is about 150 feet in diameter.

A news release from the university said the asteroid is the first "potentially hazardous object" to be discovered by the Pan-STARRS survey and has been designated  "2010 ST3." Robert Jedicke, a University of Hawaii member of the PS1 Scientific Consortium, said:  "There is a very slight possibility that ST3 will hit Earth in 2098, so it is definitely worth watching."

Objects the size of 2010 ST3 usually break up in Earth's atmosphere, but the resulting blast wave can still devastate an area covering hundreds of square miles, the university said.

Most of the largest potentially hazardous objects have already been catalogued, but scientists suspect that there are many more under a mile across that have not yet been discovered. These could cause devastation on a regional scale if they ever hit our planet. Such impacts are estimated to occur once every few thousand years.

The university news release said Pan-STARRS expects to discover tens of thousands of new asteroids every year with sufficient precision to accurately calculate their orbits around the sun. Any sizable object that may come close to Earth within the next 50 years or so is labeled "potentially hazardous" and carefully monitored.

NASA experts believe that, given several years warning, it should be possible to organize a space mission to deflect any asteroid on a collision course with Earth.

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