A potential asteroid impact on 21 March 2014 has been given a Torino hazard rating of 1, defined as “an event meriting careful monitoring”. The newly discovered 1.2 km wide asteroid, known to scientists as 2003 QQ47, has a mass of around 2 600 billion kg, and would deliver around 350 000 MT of energy in an impact with Earth.

Currently, the overall probability of this asteroid impacting Earth is 1 in 909 000. However, the orbit calculations are based on just 51 observations during a 7-day period. Dr Alan Fitzsimmons of Queen’s University, Belfast, one of the expert team advising the UK NEO information Centre said “The NEO will be observable from Earth for the next 2 months, and astronomers will continue to track it over this period.”

Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research Program (LINEAR), operating out of Socorro, New Mexico, first observed the giant rock on 24 August and reported their observations to the Minor Planet Centre in Massachusetts. The Minor Planet Centre plays a crucial role as the clearinghouse for all new discoveries of asteroids and comets.
“As additional observations are made over the coming months, and the uncertainties decrease, asteroid 2003 QQ47 is likely to drop down the Torino scale,” said Kevin Yates, project manager for the UK NEO Information Centre, based at the National Space Centre in Leicester. “The NEO Information Centre will continue to monitor the latest results of observations and publish regular updates on our website.”

Asteroids such as 2003 QQ47 are chunks of rock left over from the formation of our Solar System 4.5 billion years ago. Most are kept at a safe distance from Earth in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. However, the gravitational influence of giant planets such as Jupiter can nudge asteroids out of these safe orbits and send them plunging into the Earth’s neighbourhood.

More info: JPL Impact Risk Table