Huge asteroid 3 times bigger than London Eye to enter Earths orbit next week

Reminding us that the Solar System is a deadly billiard table of giant rocks, with hazardous object whizzing past us almost daily, NASA has issued another asteroid alert.

Asteroid 2013 BO76 – a monster space rock with an estimated size somewhere between 600 and 1500 ft – is set to skim comparatively close to the Earth on March 24.

The object was discovered by the PanSTARRS survey on 17 Jan. 2013. It was pictured by the Virtual Telescope project on March 7, when it was still some 15 million miles from Earth.

At its closest approach it’s expected to come within three million miles of us next week. Far enough that there’s no danger of it impacting on the Earth’s surface, but something of a close shave in astronomical terms.

But even at NASA's lowest possible estimate of its size, the asteroid would leave a dent in the Earth at least as wide as a mid-sized country it were to enter the atmosphere – which is why it’s on NASA’s list of Potentially Hazardous Objects.

If you have a good telescope you might be able to see the potential planet-killer passing by, or you can tune in to the Virtual Telescope Project at around 10pm on Thursday March 24.

If you're busy that night, there will be plenty of other opportunities to see asteroid flybys – there are currently some 2,200 objects on the NASA Potentially Hazardous Asteroids list.

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The largest is Asteroid (53319) 1999 JM8 – a four-mile-wide monster that is luckily unlikely to come much closer to us than the planet Venus for the foreseeable future.

The asteroid currently presenting the greatest threat is Bennu, a 460-foot rock that is likely to make a series of close passes of the Earth in the coming couple of centuries – with its closest approach coming on Tuesday, September 24, 2182 when it has a roughly 1-in-2,700 chance of hitting our planet.

Every million years or so we can expect an object in the half-mile range and that would cause an explosion equivalent to some 100,000 megatons of TNT.

The most recent large impact was the 1908 Tunguska Event, when an asteroid believed to be around 160 feet across exploded some 12 miles above the Earth, flattening trees for around 20 miles in every direction. Luckily the area was largely unpopulated and there were no record fatalities.

But there’s no reason to be complacent. On February 15, 2013 a 65-foot asteroid literally 'came out of nowhere' and exploded over the town of Chelyabinsk in Russia with 500 kilotons of energy.

The resulting explosion was approximately 30 times the yield of the nuclear bomb over Hiroshima – astronomers say an event of this kind occurs roughly once a century.

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