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Mystery Rock Whizzes Past Earth

PTI 15 Jan 2010, 11:07:39 IST

A mystery object from space whizzed close by Earth on Wednesday and scientists are  stumped by what it was. The fast-moving entity only measured between 33 and 50 feet wide so would not have caused devastation had it hit the planet, reports The Mail, London.

The mystery object 2010 AL30 is circled in this view from Skylive-Grove Creek Observatory in New South Wales, Australia

It made its closest pass at 12.46pm (GMT) streaking past just 76,000 miles away, which is a third the distance to the Moon. Amateur astronomers were able to track it in the United States.

The object was discovered by MIT's Linear survey on January 10 and astronomers are divided about what it is.

Italian scientists, Ernesto Guido and Giovanni Sostero, said it might be a piece of space junk because its orbital period is nearly identical to the Earth's year. This would tally with a manmade rocket stage circling the Sun.

Earth has become littered with billions of pieces of space junk, since the former Soviet Union launched Sputnik One 53 years ago. These range in size from minute paint flecks to hefty satellites.

However, a spokesman from Nasa said: 'The object's orbit reaches the orbit of Venus at its closest point to the Sun and nearly out to the orbit of Mars at its furthest point.

'It crosses the Earth's orbit at a very steep angle and this means it is unlikely to be a rocket stage.'

The space agency spokesman added that the trajectory would not fit with any recent rocket launch.

'It seems more likely that this is a near-Earth asteroid about 10-15 metres across,' he concluded.

The rock has now been labelled 2010 AL30. There are two million such objects streaking around near-Earth space, with one passing near our world about once a week.