Cosmically speaking, you’re lucky to be alive

…on the 16th of February.

Small near-Earth asteroid 2012 DA14 will pass very close to Earth on February 15, so close that it will pass inside the ring of geosynchronous weather and communications satellites. NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office can accurately predict the asteroid’s path with the observations obtained, and it is therefore known that there is no chance that the asteroid might be on a collision course with Earth.

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NASA have added a useful FAQ for us all

Q: How big is asteroid 2012 DA14?  

A: Asteroid 2012 DA14 is currently estimated to be about 150 feet (45 meters) across and has an estimated mass of about 130,000 metric tons. If radar observations of this asteroid are successful, we might have a more accurate estimate of the asteroid’s size after its close approach.

Q: How many times do asteroids the size of DA14 fly this close?

A: Scientists at NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office in Pasadena, Calif. estimate that an asteroid the size of 2012 DA14 flies this close every 40 years on average and that one will impact Earth, on average, about once in every 1,200 years.

Q: Is there a chance that asteroid DA14 will collide with one or more satellites?

A: There is very little chance that asteroid 2012 DA14 will impact a satellite or spacecraft. Because the asteroid is approaching from below Earth, it will pass between the outer constellation of satellites located in geosynchronous orbit (22,245 miles/35,800 kilometers) and the large concentration of satellites orbiting much closer to Earth. (The International Space Station, for example, orbits at the close-in altitude of 240 miles/386 kilometers.). There are almost no satellites orbiting at the distance at which the asteroid will pass.

Q: What would happen if DA14 were to impact Earth?

A: Asteroid 2012 DA14 will not impact Earth, but if another asteroid of a size similar to that of 2012 DA14 (about 150 feet across) were to impact Earth, it would release approximately 2.5 megatons of energy in the atmosphere and would be expected to cause regional devastation.

A comparison to the impact potential of an asteroid the size of 2012 DA14 could be made to the impact of a near-Earth object that occurred in 1908 in Tuguska, Siberia. Known in the asteroid community as the “Tunguska Event,” this impact of an asteroid just slightly smaller than 2012 DA14 (approximately 100 – 130 feet/30-40 meters across) is believed to have flattened about 750 square miles (1,200 square kilometers) of forest in and around the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in what is now Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia.

Q: Can I see the asteroid during its close approach?

A: Asteroid 2012 DA14 is small, so even though it will make a close flyby of Earth, the asteroid’s apparent magnitude is expected to peak at about only 7.4 – too dim to be viewed by the naked eye. To view the asteroid, you will need a good pair of binoculars, or even better, a moderately powered telescope.

During the closest approach, and dependant on local weather, the asteroid will be visible from parts of Europe, Africa and Asia. The asteroid will appear to be moving relatively quickly as it crosses the sky from the south to the north.

If you have more questions, perhaps you’ll find the answers here.

Here is a NASA press conference from a couple of days ago:

Video streaming by Ustream

 


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  • Orange

    This is really quite amazingly close. Only 2 Earth diameters away. The moon is at 32 Earth diameters away.

  • Michael

    As the troops said in WW2, a miss is as good as a mile.

  • unitedtribes

    Wondered about this statement”Because the asteroid is approaching from below Earth,”
    Is there an above or below in space?

    • Pretty much the same way as most New Zealanders think Invercargill is below them. (boom boom tissssh)

    • GregM

      Below the orbital plane would be a better description. Imagine our solar system as a dinner plate with the sun in the middle, and the planets are peas various distances out towards the edge. That’s the orbital plane. Now it gets interesting. Because Earth is on a lean 23.5 degrees outwards, the geosynchronous ring at the equator where the sky satellite is for example, is on a different angle to the orbital plane. It is coming att he dinner plate straight towards the edge horizontally, but because of our “lean” it appears to pass us from below at a shallow tangent. But yes, cosmically the bullet is parting our hair.

      • Sponge

        God – my head hurts….

        • GregM

          :-)

        • Mr_V4

          Then consider the galactic plane is inclined ~60deg from the ecliptic.

          • GregM

            Ahhh! but it gets better! The other planets, especially the gas giants have an impact on our orbit as well. Imagine if Jupiter is directly opposite us on the other side of the sun, our orbit is pulled a few thousand km’s closer to the sun. What does all this mean? Next time someone says to you ” fuck it’s hot today”, blame Jupiter.

        • parorchestia

          It gets even worse. The so called “North Pole” is actually a south pole, and so Invercargill is above, not below.
          Being a conservative I prefer the days when maps were orientated – that is east was to the top, not north. Thus NZ is above Aus. LoL.

      • unitedtribes

        I still say you cant have an above or below in space only a closer to or further away

  • rightoverlabour

    Hmm, lets hope they got the Maths right. That is very, very, very close. However, unlike NCEA Maths, if they have got it wrong there will be no resubmission date….

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