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Earth marks close encounter with enormous asteroid

(Reuters) - An asteroid estimated to be the size of three football fields whizzed close to Earth on Monday, roughly a year after one exploded over Russia and injured 1,200 people.

Slooh Space Camera tracked the approach of the asteroid as it raced past the planet at about 27,000 mph (43,000 kmph), starting at 9 p.m. EST (2 a.m. GMT, February 18), the robotic telescope service said in a statement on Slooh.com.

The Dubai Astronomy Group provided Slooh photos of the part of the sky where the rock was expected to be seen, but its motion could not be picked out immediately in a live webcast against the backdrop of night-time stars.

The 295-yard (270-m) asteroid was streaking past Earth at a distance of about 2.1 million miles (3.4 million km) little more than a year after another asteroid exploded on February 15, 2013, over Chelyabinsk, Russia. That asteroid injured 1,200 people following a massive shock wave that shattered windows and damaged buildings.

Chelyabinsk region officials had wanted to mark the anniversary by giving a piece of the meteorite to each 2014 Winter Olympic athlete who won a medal on Saturday at the Sochi Games. However, the International Olympic Committee at the last minute said it could be done only after the games and separately.

Slooh's flagship observatory on Mount Teide in Spain's Canary Islands was iced over and unable to be used for the 2000 EM26 viewing, Paul Cox, Slooh's technical and research director, said on the one-hour webcast.

"We continue to discover these potentially hazardous asteroids - sometimes only days before they make their close approaches to Earth," Cox said in a statement before the show.

He added, "We need to find them before they find us!"

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst, Nick Zieminski and Clarence Fernandez)

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