House-sized asteroid to buzz Earth on Sunday

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (REUTERS) - A recently discovered asteroid about the size of a house will make a relatively close pass by Earth on Sunday, flying just past the communication satellites that circle the planet, scientists said.

Nasa said the asteroid, known as 2014 RC, poses no threat, though at its closest approach it will be only about one-tenth the distance to the moon, or roughly 25,000 miles (40,000 km) from Earth.

Communications and weather satellites are generally located in orbits about 22,000 miles (36,000 km) above the planet. "While this celestial object does not appear to pose any threat to Earth or satellites, its close approach creates a unique opportunity for researchers to observe and learn more about asteroids," Nasa said in a statement released on Tuesday.

With a diameter of about 60 feet (18 meters), Asteroid 2014 RC will be too dim to see with the naked eye, but amateur astronomers with small telescopes might be able to catch a glimpse as it zips by, Nasa said.

Asteroid 2014 RC is slightly smaller than the 65-foot (20-meter) diameter asteroid that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, last year. The shock wave from the explosion, estimated to have had 30 times more energy than the Hiroshima atomic bomb, blasted out windows and damaged buildings. More than 1,000 people were injured by flying glass and debris.

The same day as the Chelyabinsk asteroid explosion, another larger asteroid flew as close as 17,168 miles (27,630 km) from Earth, well within striking distance of the planet's communications and weather satellites.

Earth's latest celestial visitor was spotted on August 31 by the Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson, Arizona, and confirmed the following night by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii.

The asteroid's closest approach will be over New Zealand at 6:18 a.m. on Monday (2:18 p.m. EDT/1818 GMT on Sunday), Nasa said.

Nasa currently tracks more than 11,000 asteroids in orbits that pass relatively close to Earth.