Space: Chicken Little Alert

For one night it looked as if a killer asteroid was about to hit--but Earth's number isn't up quite yet

When Timothy Spahr finally knocked off work on Jan. 13, after more than 10 hours on the job, he figured he was at last done for the night. Spahr's task as an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, in Cambridge, Mass., is to collect reports of asteroids that might one day pass near Earth. On that Tuesday, he had been processing observations from an automated telescope in New Mexico when he noticed a pinpoint of light that might fit the profile. He calculated the object's orbit and, as usual, posted the information on the Minor Planet Center website for other...

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