The small asteroid 2010 AL30 was recent discovered and will pass close to Earth today. The close fly-by is raising awareness of ongoing efforts to improve detection, to give mankind time to react if a major collision was imminent.  (Source: Ernesto Guido & Giovanni Sostero)
New body is harmless, but it shows that efforts are progressing nicely to detect serious threats

One thing that troubles futurists is that while our society is busy worrying about dangers like global terrorism, it has turned little attention to developing a plan to counter dangers in the skies -- asteroids.  Nobody quite knows what the international community would do if confronted with a serious impact threat

Fortunately, detection efforts are improving at least.  Those improvements were showcased by the discovery of the small asteroid “2010 AL30”.  A couple of days ago, the small asteroid was first observed and added to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Small Body Database.

The small, 10-meter-wide asteroid will pass sometime today within 130,000 km (80,000 miles) of the Earth.  That's about one third of the distance from the Earth to the Moon, which tells you how close this passer-by is.

Scientists originally thought that the small body might be man-made junk (possibly a spent rocket booster or some other piece of a spacecraft), as it shared a similar orbit to Earth.  However, subsequent imaging indicates that the Near Earth Object (NEO) is actually a small asteroid that shares a similar orbit path to the Earth.  More observations will continue, but that's the latest conclusion.  Asteroids with a similar orbital path to Earth are called Apollo class asteroids, named after Apollo 1862, a similar asteroid discovered in 1932.

In its pass today, the NEO will shine with the brightness of a 14th magnitude star -- the same brightness as Pluto.  The body will pass through the Earth view of the constellations Orion, Taurus, and Pisces.  Its path, as seen from Earth, can be found on a NASA website, here.

Every year small asteroids like 2010 AL30 do hit the Earth, exploding in the Earth's upper atmosphere with the energy of a small nuclear bomb.  Thus, small NEO like these pose little threat, other than temporary interference with communications.

However, the potential still remains for a "killer" asteroid --  impact by a much larger body.  Such fears are generally far from the minds of the general public, but they're certainly a hot topic in the space research community and among futurists and science-fiction buffs.  After all, perhaps the most popular theory of how the dinosaurs were pushed to extinction is that an asteroid collided with the Earth, clouding the sky in darkness for years.

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