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Thai astronomer quells fears over asteroid hitting earth

A specialist with the National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand has sought to calm fears that Asteroid 2006 QQ23, which is double the height of Baiyoke II Tower in Bangkok, would hit Planet Earth on Saturday.

Sitthiporn Duantakhu, an official of the NARIT, said although the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is watching the QQ23 asteroid, it doesn’t mean it would crash into the earth and turn Saturday into doomsday as rumoured among Thai Facebook users.

A TV channel cited NASA’s warning that the QQ23 asteroid would pass near our planet on Saturday, apparently terrifying Thais who shared the news on social media and warned that the world was about to come to an end.

Sitthiporn explained that NASA was always monitoring asteroids likely to fly by the earth not because of any danger but because they provide a good opportunity for astronomers to study it.

He quoted a NASA report as saying that Asteroid 2006 QQ23 would fly within 0.049 astronomical units or 7.3 million kilometres of Earth at about 16,740 km/h. The distance is close enough to classify the object as a near-Earth asteroid. Additionally, because it is within 0.05 astronomical units or 195 million kilometres, it is close enough to be labelled as potentially hazardous.

To illustrate the distance, Sitthiporn said the Moon is about 0.38 million kilometres from Earth.

The QQ23 was discovered by the Siding Spring Observatory in Australia on August 21, 2006. It is classified as a near-Earth asteroid with the 263-day orbit around the sun. Its diameter is 570-metres, which is double the height of Baiyoke II Tower in Bangkok.

Sitthiporn added that the asteroid has orbited neat the earth several times already so the phenomenon on Saturday would be a normal one that should not cause panic.

Monitoring of asteroids and space objects found that there were six near-Earth objects discovered each year and the phenomenon had thus become normal. 

He said the NARIT would use a 0.7-metre telescope at the Doi Inthanon Observatory to observe the asteroid when it flies nearby.

The Nation

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