Russian researchers claim to have spotted an asteroid pass narrowly above the Earth, unbeknownst to astronomers.

The asteroid was reported to be similar in size to that which spectacularly exploded above Chelyabinsk in February, injuring 1,500 people.

Vladimir Lipunov of the Moscow State University and the Sternberg Astronomical Institute said that the asteroid was 15-metres wide and moving at 16km per second when it was spotted hours before passing within the orbit of geostationary satellites.

Lipunov reportedly told RT.com: "[the asteroid] was discovered on Friday night by our station near Lake Baikal and nine hours later it flew within 11,300km of the Earth’s surface".

Had the asteroid entered Earth's atmosphere above a populated area, it is possible it could have caused significant damage - though it is not big enough to present a major hazard.

The RIA Novosti news agency said that Lipunov and his team had told the International Astronomical Union about the find but said it had not been confirmed.

Without independent confirmation, it is difficult to say for sure if the asteroid is what Lipunov's team say it is - but it would not be all that unusual. Both Nasa and the European Space Agency are among those who run programs searching for near-Earth asteroids which could present a danger to Earth.

But with more than 600,000 known asteroids currently in our solar system (of which 10,000 are classed 'near Earth') and many more lying unseen, it is impossible with currently technology and funding to accurately track each of them - let alone come up with an emergency plan to deflect a dangerous object off-course.

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