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Monday's asteroid flyby common, threat real

Tuesday - 2/18/2014, 12:16pm  ET

'It's a big guy'

Greg Redfern, NASA ambassador to the solar system

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WASHINGTON - An asteroid the size of three FedEx Fields zipped past the Earth Monday night.

At 2 million miles away, it was a close call in the grand scheme of the cosmos.

But asteroids like this are a common occurrence, says Greg Redfern, the NASA ambassador to the solar system and a WTOP contributor.

"We have these flybys, these close flybys every single day almost," Redfern says.

On Feb. 10, a 1-kilometer asteroid whizzed past the Earth and came within 6.2 times the distance to the moon, which is closer than Monday's encounter.

Another asteroid expected on Feb. 20 is about one-third the size of Monday's asteroid and will come within 1 million miles of Earth, he says.

The threats from asteroids are real. In comparison, pieces of an undetected 60-foot meteorite slammed into Russia one year ago.

More than 1,500 people were injured and more than 7,300 buildings were damaged from the fireball that lit up the winter sky before slamming into Chelyabisnk.

Had the angle of entry or the composition of the meteorite differed, the damage it caused could have been much worse, Redfern says.

And NASA is working to create spacecraft that could land a man on an asteroid with the ultimate goal of redirecting the asteroid to avoid a collision with the Earth, he says.

But detection is key. NASA can't deflect an asteroid if doesn't know it exists, he says.

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Follow Greg's daily blog to keep up with the latest news in astronomy and space exploration. You can email him at skyguyinva@gmail.com.

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