Mystery Object to Hurtle Past Earth Tonight
Shows small asteroids can be detected two days before hitting earth
By Jane Yager,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 13, 2010 6:37 AM CST
The mystery object will be visible in the night sky as it passes by.   (Shutter Stock)

(Newser) – Scientists aren't sure what exactly the small object whizzing toward earth is—it could be an asteroid or space junk—but they are confident that it will narrowly miss hitting our planet. The 33-foot-wide object known as 2010 AL30 will shave past earth today at a distance of 80,000 miles, very close in astronomical terms, and should be visible to asteroid hunters in tonight's sky, MSNBC reports.

The NEO—Near-Earth Object to the uninitiated—has the same orbital period as Earth, leading some scientists to speculate that it's man-made, a spent rocket booster or chunk of spacecraft. But others call that a coincidence, and the object just an asteroid. Either way, detected Monday, it offers an example of how much warning can be expected before an asteroid of a similar size hits earth, scientists note. Not that something this small would pose any danger anyway: It would likely explode high in the atmosphere, as do similar objects every year.