Plane enters D.C. airspace, causes evacuations

A small plane got too close to the U.S. Capitol on Saturday, triggering an evacuation of the building and nearby structures. Meanwhile, a more potentially dangerous threat was streaking toward the planet from outer space.

An asteroid, discovered only weeks ago, is to come within about 777,000 miles of Earth on Sunday, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

However, no evacuations have been suggested.

“There is zero chance of an impact,” said Don Yeomans, manager of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office at the lab.

Yet the size and estimated 30,000 mph speed of asteroid 2014 HQ 124 give pause, even if it comes no closer than 3.2 times the distance to the moon.

It would “be catastrophic if it hit the Earth,” said asteroid impact expert Mark Boslough of Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, as quoted on the Web site Space.com. He said the hurtling space rock, thought to be at least 800 feet across, has the energy to “wipe out an entire metropolitan area.”

Perhaps less terrifying to contemplate was Saturday’s incident in Washington’s restricted airspace.

A Mooney M20C, flying from Massachusetts to North Carolina, flew toward the nation’s capital, and its pilot could not be contacted, authorities said.

The Capitol, the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court were evacuated as fighter jets were scrambled, according to officials.

But contact was restored, and the buildings reopened as the plane was escorted away. A security official said it appeared that the pilot was confused and had no nefarious intent.

Matt Zapotosky covers the federal district courthouse in Alexandria, where he tries to break news from a windowless office in which he is not allowed to bring his cell phone.
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