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Telescope spots its first asteroid target

Cambridge, Mass. -- An asteroid-hunting telescope in Hawaii has discovered its first potentially-hazardous asteroid, scientists say.

The Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System instrument on the summit of Haleakala on Maui, Hawaii, has discovered an asteroid that will come within 4 million miles of Earth in mid-October, a release by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said.

The asteroid is about 150 feet in diameter and was photographed Sept. 16 when it was about 20 million miles away, the release said.

It is the first "potentially hazardous object" (PHO) to be discovered by the Pan-STARRS survey and has been given the designation "2010 ST3."

"Although this particular object won't hit Earth in the immediate future, its discovery shows that Pan-STARRS is now the most sensitive system dedicated to discovering potentially dangerous asteroids," Robert Jedicke of the University of Hawaii said. "This object was discovered when it was too far away to be detected by other asteroid surveys."

Although most of the largest PHOs have already been catalogued, scientists suspect there are many more under a mile across that have not yet been discovered, and that could cause devastation on a regional scale if they ever hit our planet.

Such impacts are estimated to occur once every few thousand years, scientists say.

Copyright 2010 United Press International

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