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BRIDGEPORT, WV (S-M) - A lack of communications has led to the Rosetta spacecraft being mistaken for an incoming asteroid.  As reported here Monday, the Rosetta probe was scheduled to make a close approach to the Earth on Tuesday in order to get a gravitational assist to boost its orbit.


On November 07, astronomers at the Catalina Sky Survey discovered a small asteroid and reported it to the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, MA. Soon, an electronic circular was released christening the new object "2007 VN84," and anouncing that it would come just .00081AU (7000 miles) from the Earth on November 13. Such a close aproach by a newly discovered asteroid is a very important matter.


Scientists might have gone on watching their new "discovery" zip by the Earth if not for the knowledge of astronomer Denis Denisenko of Russia. He pointed out on an internet mailing list that 2007 VN84 was almost certainly the Rosetta space probe.


Astronomers in Cambridge were quick to issue an editorial notice acknowledging Denisenko's suggestion and comfirming that Rosetta and the new asteroid were indeed the same object. The notice cited lack of communication and said, "This incident... highlights the deplorable state of availability of positional information on distant artificial objects."


Floyd Cummins, Associate Editor, says that the incident was embarassing but shows how effective asteroid surveys have become. "It's amazing that they could spot this small object so far out. It is only a matter of time before there is a close call with a real asteroid, and they are going to have to learn how to deal with the public when it happens," he said.