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3/4/2009
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Asteroid Hurtles Past Earth At Safe Distance

Space rock sped past Earth this week at a distance of 49,000 miles -- twice as far as most telecommunications satellites.

A small asteroid passed relatively close to Earth this week.

The space rock, estimated to be somewhere between 60 and 150 feet in diameter, sped past Earth, appearing at its brightest around 5:45 a.m. EST Monday coming closest to Tahiti, according to the Planetary Society.

The asteroid, labeled 2009 DD45, came within an estimated 49,000 miles of Earth, passing over the Pacific Ocean near Tahiti. That is about twice the distance of most geostationary telecommunications satellites orbiting the Earth, or one-fifth the distance of the moon, the Planetary Society said.

Rob McNaught at the Siding Spring Observatory in Australia spotted the asteroid on Saturday. Jean-Claude Pelle, who received a Planetary Society Shoemaker NEO grant for 2007, tracked it from his observatory in Punaauia, Tahiti. It could also be observed from Australia, Japan, and China, according to the Planetary Society. The asteroid was not visible from North America or Europe.

The space rock is about equal in size to the Tunguska impactor of 1908, the largest asteroid impact in modern history, which occurred in Siberia.

The Planetary Society said that 2009 DD45 is likely to return since it remains in a solar orbit that touches on the Earth's orbit, but it could take years for it to be seen again.

According to the Planetary Society, no near-Earth objects, or NEOs, are on track to collide with the Earth, but the presence of NEOs serve as a reminder of potentially hazardous asteroids, while also presenting an opportunity for researchers and astronomers to study them.

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