Paging Chicken Little

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Steven Spielberg couldn't have asked for better publicity. Just as his big-budget asteroid-disaster movie, "Deep Impact," prepares to do the rounds, the astronomers announce that there actually is a chunk of rock out there that's set to rendezvous with the Earth -- in 30 years' time.

Asteroid 1997 XF11 -- hardly a name to set the pulse racing -- will pass within 30,000 miles of us at 1:30 p.m. EST, Thursday, October 26, 2028 (set your watches now). Chances are it'll whizz past and give Europe -- then in darkness -- a pretty light show. "It would actually be a rather nice thing to see," says Dr. Brian Marsden of the International Astronomical Union. His colleagues aren't so sure. "This is the most dangerous one we've found so far," fretted Jack Hills of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. "It scares me, it really does."

But there's no cause for alarm -- at least, not until 2002, when the rock will be close enough for radar to detect its exact course. That leaves three decades for scientists to decide whether or not to nuke the thing -- and for Hollywood to produce a plethora of asteroid Armageddon flicks.