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Newfound Asteroid to Buzz Earth Thursday

Asteroid 2010 GA6

The orbit of newfound asteroid 2010 GA6 as it flies by Earth on April 8, 2010 at a distance of 223,000 miles, about nine-tenths the distance between Earth and the moon. (NASA/JPL)

A newly discovered asteroid will zip close by Earth Thursday, but poses no threat of crashing into our planet even though it is passing within the orbit of the moon.

The asteroid, called 2010 GA6, is a relatively small space rock about 71 feet wide and was discovered by astronomers with the Catalina Sky Survey in Tucson, Az. The space rock will fly within the orbit of the moon when it passes Earth Thursday at 7:06 p.m. EDT (2306 GMT), but NASA astronomers said not to worry...the planet is safe.

"Fly bys of near-Earth objects within the moon's orbit occur every few weeks," said Don Yeomans of NASA's Near-Earth Object Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., in a statement.

At the time of its closest pass, asteroid 2010 GA6 will be about 223,000 miles from the Earth. That's about nine-tenths the distance between Earth and the moon [more asteroid photos]. 

The space rock is not the first asteroid to swing close by Earth this year.

In January, the small asteroid 2010 AL30 passed within 80,000 miles when it zipped by. Other space rocks have flown past Earth at more comfortable distances greater than several hundred thousand miles. 

NASA routinely tracks asteroids and comets that may fly near the Earth with a network of telescopes on the ground and in space. The agency's Near-Earth Object Observations program, more commonly known as Spaceguard, is responsible for finding potentially dangerous asteroids and studying their orbits to determine if they pose a risk of hitting the Earth.

NASA's latest space telescope, the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) launched in December, has been given the task of hunting new asteroids that were previously undetectable because they shine only in the infrared range of the light spectrum. 

So far, the WISE telescope has been discovering dozens of previously unknown asteroids every day. Some of those space rocks have been tagged for closer analysis since they may be potentially hazardous to Earth, WISE mission scientists have said.

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