Apocalypse almost? The Earth survives a near-miss from a potentially killer asteroid

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Only days before the supposed Mayan apocalypse arrives on Dec. 21, a large, previously undetected asteroid skimmed by the Earth. Thus, the Earth narrowly avoided death and destruction for the moment. But will another, larger asteroid -- coming closest on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning (Dec. 11/12) morning -- kill us all?

Nope. Not this time, anyway.

The first asteroid, imaginatively named 2012 XE54, passed by the Earth on early on Tuesday (Dec. 11). At its closest point, 2012 XE54 was only 140,000 miles from impact. In comparison, the Moon is 240,000 miles away. So this was close.

But would this asteroid have ended life as we know it? The answer is still probably not. This isn't a giant, world-destroying rock -- 2012 XE54 is only 120 feet wide. Even this small width, however, can cause massive destruction under the right circumstances. Scientists believe that an object of a similar size leveled 800 square miles of forest in Siberia back in 1908.

What about that other, bigger asteroid passing by on Wednesday? This one, 4179 Toutatis, is a full three miles across! That is big enough to cause worldwide destruction, should the big rock ever intersect with the Earth. Fortunately for everyone's holiday plans, Toutatis will still be 4.3 million miles away at its closest approach. This time... Future passes could very well be closer.

The really scary part about all of this is how few of the dangerous asteroids have been discovered. 2012 XE54, for example, was first noticed only two days before its close approach. Scientists estimate that almost 5000 asteroids of considerable size cross the Earth's orbit, but only about 30 percent of them have been discovered.

So don't worry, apocalypse lovers! Death may still rain down from above!

Photo/Video credit: Getty Images