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About Asteroids

The Columbia Encyclopedia lists asteroids as small, irregularly shaped bodies orbiting the sun. They may be fragments of a planet shattered in the remote past, material that failed to condense into a single planet, or material from the nuclei of old comets. Basically, asteroids are loose aggregates of stone, some are metal-nickel or iron-which are denser, but fundamentally asteroids are rocks of all sizes. When an asteroid enters the Earth's atmosphere, it becomes a meteor, and when it passes through the atmosphere and hits the surface of the planet, it is termed a meteorite.

According to NASA scientists and other astronomers worldwide, a "Global Killer" is just what it implies, an asteroid with the capability to destroy the Earth as we know it, similar to the asteroid which is thought to have hit Earth 65 million years ago wiping out the dinosaur as well as over 40% of other species on the planet at the time. Another such killer was the asteroid Eltanin that pummeled the sea off Antarctica a mere two million years ago with the power of 100 billion tons of TNT. According to a report by the Los Angeles Times (11/27/97), researchers estimate this last

asteroid was "somewhere between sixth­tenths and two­and­a­half miles in diameter, triggering devastating tsunami tidal waves that swamped the coasts of South America and Antarctica."

In July 1997, the Los Angeles Times, along with other newspapers, issued a report from astronomer Eleanor F. Helin stating that "a Jet Propulsion Laboratory sky survey found 5,000 new asteroids, including seven big enough and close enough to eventually pose a threat to Earth. The discovery brings to 99 the number of such objects, which are defined as being at least 3,000 feet in diameter and passing within five million miles of Earth. None of the 99 is an immediate threat, but so far only 10% of the sky has been searched by the Near­Earth Asteroid Tracking Project."

In 1994, the comet Shoemaker­Levy was captured by Jupiter's gravity and because of the large tidal forces from the planet's gravity, it was broken up into a series of smaller comets that strung themselves out in a line, hitting Jupiter one after another. Each of them carried a large energy release, but nothing comparable to the energy and devastation that could have occurred on a rock planet such as Earth.

The most disturbing report came March 12 this year from astronomer Brian Marsden of the International Astronomical Union in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who estimated that an asteroid was heading toward Earth at 17,000 mph and was expected to come startlingly close to our planet on October 26, 2028. Marsden and several other astronomers from JPL quickly revised his original calculations and determined that XF11 (as the asteroid was named) will only come within 600,000 miles of Earth, beyond the distance of the moon. But the information itself was enough to set off alarm bells around the world.

"There's not really much we can do," says director/producer Bay. "The experts at NASA hid us that the Earth gets wiped out every 10 million years or so. Four years ago a Global Killer about three miles long passed us, between us and the moon, and we didn't know it until days later."


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