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Asteroids 'causing nuclear-scale explosions above Earth'

Powerful asteroids hitting the Earth's atmosphere caused 26 nuclear-scale explosions between 2000 and 2013, including one that was much stronger than the atom bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, a report has found.

Artist's impression of the asteroid belt surrounding the star Vega, the second brightest star in the northern night sky Credit: PA/Nasa

The findings came from the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organisation, a global infrasound network that detects nuclear weapon detonations and recorded the impacts over 13 years.

Most explosions occurred too high in the atmosphere to cause any serious damage on Earth but "the only thing preventing a catastrophe from a ‘city-killer’-sized asteroid has been blind luck," said former astronaut Ed Lu as he revealed the data at the Museum of Flight in Seattle today, NBC reported.

Mr Lu added that while large asteroids have been detected, "less than 10,000 of the more than a million dangerous asteroids with the potential to destroy an entire major metropolitan area have been found."


First glimpse of 'near-miss' asteroid as it passes Earth

Asteroid 2012 DA14 as seen from the Gingin Observatory in Australia. Credit: Nasa

It may not look like much, but this is the asteroid big enough to flatten London that narrowly missed the Earth tonight. The 150ft-wide space rock came as as close as 17,200 miles to Earth's surface.

The asteroid, given the name of 2012 DA14, has been closely tracked since its discovery by a Spanish observatory a year ago.

Cloudy skies obscure view of asteroid over England

Despite cloudy skies, scientists at the Bayfordbury Observatory at the University of Hertfordshire are still hoping to get a glimpse of the asteroid in the next 90 minutes.

Asteroid to reach nearest point to Earth at 7.30pm

The asteroid, given the not so catchy name of 2012 DA14, has been closely tracked since its discovery by a Spanish observatory a year ago. It is predicted to reach its nearest point to Earth at around 7.30pm tonight UK time.

Sky watchers have been told that given clear skies they should be able to track the rock climbing in the north-eastern sky from anywhere in the UK.

It will be possible to see it if you know where to look, but just waving your binoculars in the right general direction isn't going to work.

The asteroid will be a faint dot of light moving at a steady rate between the stars. It'll be thousands of times fainter than Jupiter and 250 times fainter than the stars of the Plough.

The trick will be to find the area in advance and wait for it to come through. You can use the star maps to find exactly the right part of the sky. If you hold your binoculars steady you will see this tiny point of light crawling across your field of view in about seven or eight minutes.

It's not easy, but you will have the thrill of knowing you are seeing a little object in space the size of an office block.

– Robin Scagell, vice-president of the Society for Popular Astronomy
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