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Russian asteroid highlights astronomers' challenge: predicting such space objects

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The potential isn't lost on the international community at large. A subcommittee of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space is meeting in Vienna through Feb. 22 to tackle several space-related issues, including hazards from comets or asteroids.

The Scientific and Technical Subcommittee is building a plan to better coordinate searches for near-Earth objects as well as a plan to mount coordinated warnings and responses to objects with Earth in their cross hairs. 

The need for such coordination became apparent in 2008, with the sudden appearance of 2088 TC3, an 80-ton object 5-to-7-feet wide that blew apart with an energy equivalent of 2 kilotons of high explosives in a brilliant fireball. The explosion occurred above a spot roughly 60 miles south of the border between Sudan and Egypt.

The Catalina Sky Survey, a near-Earth-object surveillance effort run by the University of Arizona, spotted the object 20 hours before it entered the atmosphere. Scientists were able to get a good bead on its orbit and track.

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