An Earth-bound asteroid, dubbed 2013 TX68, could pass well within the ring of communications and GPS satellites that orbit more than 35,000 kilometres above the equator, scientists warn.
"We know the asteroid will miss Earth - but it's possible that it may pass within the range of some orbiting satellites that make the satnav system on your phone possible," said Swinburne University astrophysicist Dr Alan Duffy.
Australia has several satellites in orbit around the Earth, including several owned by telecommunications giant Optus.
"Satellites are tiny targets in the huge emptiness of space - so it would be incredibly unlucky for Australia or any nation to have this asteroid strike them," Dr Duffy said. "That said, a hit cannot be entirely ruled out."
Another Swinburne astrophysicist, Dr Kurt Liffman, agrees. "The minimum distance of closest approach is around 24,000 kilometres, which would take the asteroid within range of some of our key satellites," Dr Liffman said.
An Optus spokesperson said: "As an experienced satellite operator, Optus closely monitors information published by the international space community on activities that are relevant to satellite operations."
The company has six satellites, making it the largest fleet servicing Australia, New Zealand and Antarctica. One satellite operates at 152 degrees east, two at 156 degrees east, one at 160 degrees east and two at 164 degrees east.
"Since commencing satellite operations in 1985, Optus has experienced no adverse effects on its satellite fleet resulting from fly-bys of any asteroids and is confident that 2013 TX68 poses no threat to our current fleet," the spokesman said.
Heading towards Earth at more than 14 kilometres a second, the asteroid, roughly 30 metres across and about the weight of Sydney's Harbour Bridge, follows an elliptical, egg-shaped route as it orbits the sun, routinely crossing our path.
During the last lap two years ago, the space rock flew by at the reassuringly safe distance of more than 2 million kilometres.
Odds are one in 250 million that the near-Earth asteroid could hit next time round – namely on September 18, 2056, the experts say. Another fly-by in 2097 has a lower probability of impact.
"TX68 is likely three times the mass of the asteroid that exploded above Chelyabinsk in Russia in February, 2013," said Dr Duffy.
The minimum distance of closest approach is around 24,000 kilometres.Dr Kurt Liffman, astrophysicist
"Were TX68 ever to hit Earth in some future orbit, it would probably explode in the atmosphere – creating an enormous air blast with twice the energy of Chelyabinsk, damaging buildings and injury [to] people."
As two-thirds of Earth's surface is covered by water, most asteroids of this kind tend to disintegrate harmlessly above the ocean.
Although NASA's Centre for Near-Earth Object Studies keeps track of more than 90 per cent of asteroids of one kilometre or more across, there are many smaller objects that could potentially collide with Earth in the future.
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