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Errant wanderer that "misses" Earth every four years.
NASA obtained radar pictures of an asteroid that flew close to
Earth in early December, 1992, giving them the best view yet of
the kind of object that may have collided with the planet 65
million years ago and brought the Cretaceous Period to an end
with the extinction of most dinosaur species. This same
asteroid, or others similar to it, may threaten humanity
Astronomer Steven Ostro, a senior researcher at JPL, said it
was the first clear look at one of the many thousands of
asteroids that could interfere with Earth's orbit.
NASA bounced radar waves off the surface of Toutatis using a
230-foot antenna dish at a tracking station in the Mojave
Desert. The returning signals were captured by a 112-foot
antenna to record the photographs on December 8, 9, 10 and
Unlike most asteroids that orbit in the main asteroid belt
between Mars and Jupiter, Toutatis and thousands of other
errant wanderers could enter Earth's atmosphere and strike the
planet with devastating effects greater than the power of
thousands of nuclear warheads.
The images show Toutatis is composed of two jagged rocks, one
about 2.5 miles wide; the other about 1.5 miles wide,
apparently held together by gravitational forces.
Scientists believe a six to nine-mile wide asteroid struck
Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula about 65 million years ago, throwing
dust and rocks high into the atmosphere, chilling the climate
and destroying food plants, dinosaurs and most other highly
Scores of other impact areas have been discovered on Earth,
including one from an asteroid that exploded over Siberia in
1908 obliterating a vast tract of forest.
An asteroid two and one-half miles wide would wipe out millions
of people, plants and animals whether it strikes a land mass or
falls into the ocean.
The tidal wave from a strike at sea in the Pacific Ocean, for
instance, would probably sweep away every city on its shores,
killing billions of people, and destroying livestock and crops
hundreds of miles inland from the coast.
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