Close shave for Earth as asteroid is set to whizz by INSIDE orbit of communication satellites

Kate Bevan – Daily Mail Feb 4, 2013

An impact would be equivalent to 2.25 megaton atom bomb.

Planet Earth is set to have a very close encounter with an asteroid the day after Valentine’s Day.

The asteroid – which goes by the catchy name of 2012 DA14 – will miss our home planet by just 17,200 miles, which is a very near miss in space terms.

The asteroid, which is about 150ft across, will come closer to Earth than the ring of geosynchronous satellites, which are in orbit about 22,200 miles above the Earth

Although the asteroid is small, if it were on a collision course with Earth, it would produce the equivalent of 2.5 megatons of TNT.

And this is just one of some 500,000 rocks circling the Earth.

The good news is that scientists say that that isn’t enough to wipe out life on the planet – but it could wipe out a city the size of Greater London.

However, a miss is as good as a mile, and unless you’re specifically looking for it, you almost certainly won’t see the asteroid.

NASA says that it won’t be bright enough to see with the naked eye, but that a good pair of binoculars or a telescope should be able to pick it out.

On the 15th, said NASA, the asteroid will travel rapidly from the southern evening sky into the northern morning sky, with its closest Earth approach occurring about 19:26 UTC when it will achieve a magnitude of less than seven, which is somewhat fainter than naked eye visibility.

About four minutes after its Earth close approach, there is a good chance it will pass into the Earth’s shadow for about 18 minutes or so before reappearing from the eclipse.

When travelling rapidly into the northern morning sky, 2012 DA14 will quickly fade in brightness.

The best view for astronomers will be from Indonesia, says NASA, while stargazers in Eastern Europe, Asia and Australia should also be able to get a good look at the space rock as it whizzes past us at a speed of 17,400mph.

The asteroid was discovered only last year, by astronomers in southern Spain.

The team was operating from the La Sagra Sky Survey observatory near Granada in Spain. The observatory uses automated telescopes to track small asteroids and comets.

2012 DA14 was discovered after the astronomers decided to search areas of the sky where asteroids are not usually seen.

Its orbital period around the sun is very close to our own, at 368 days, and it has made a close approach every year.

This year’s is the closest, say scientists – and the good news is that this is the closest it will get to Earth for at least three decades. 

Dr Gerhard Drolshagen, a near-Earth object observer from the European Space Agency’s Space Situational Awareness (SSA) office, said: ‘In future times the possibility of a collision cannot be completely excluded. It is highly unlikely, but the chance is greater than zero.’

The asteroid’s next very close shave with Earth will be in 2046, when it will squeak by us at a distance of 37,000 miles.

And there’s another close encounter in 97 years’ time, on February 16 2110, when the chance that it will hit the Earth is 1 in 7,692,308,000.


UPDATE: NASA Tries to Calm Fears of Near Miss Asteroid

Earth Changes Media – Feb 8, 2013

NASA held a media teleconference earlier today (Thursday) Feb. 7th, to discuss asteroid 2012 DA14 which will have a very close flyby of Earth on Feb. 15, 2013. Also discussed are NASA’s efforts to find potentially hazardous near-Earth objects.

I would suggest NASA is a bit more nervous than they project. I believe I counted between 11 and 15 disclaimers during their conference. They also produced three videos – also with punctuated disclaimers. I’m not saying they are hiding information, I’m just saying there’s probably a few beads of sweat on those monitoring.

Below is a portion of a question and answer session:

Q: What is asteroid DA14

A: Asteroid 2012 DA14 is a small near-Earth object – approximately 150 feet (45 meters) in diameter. On Feb. 15, 2013, the asteroid will pass by our planet at a remarkably close distance, but the asteroid’s path is understood well enough that there is no chance of a collision with the Earth.

Q: What date and what time will the asteroid be closest to Earth?

A: Asteroid 2012 DA14 will be closest to Earth on Feb. 15 at approximately 19:24 UTC (2:24 p.m. EST/11:24 a.m. PST). This time may change by a minute or two as the asteroid is tracked on its approach and predictions are refined.

At the time of closest approach, the asteroid will be over the eastern Indian Ocean, off Sumatra — approx. latitude: -6 deg South. / longitude: 97.5 deg East.

Q: How far away will asteroid 2012 DA14 be at time of closest approach?

A: Asteroid 2012 DA14 will be only about 17,200 miles (27,700 kilometers) above Earth’s surface at the time of closest approach on Feb 15, 2013. This distance is well outside Earth’s atmosphere, but it is inside the belt of satellites in geostationary orbit, which is located 22,200 miles (35,800 kilometers) above Earth’s surface. The close-approach distance is only about one-tenth the distance between Earth and moon. Another way to express the distance between asteroid and Earth at time of closest approach is 4.4 Earth radii from Earth’s surface – or about twice the diameter of the Earth.

Q: Could asteroid DA14 impact Earth?

A: No. The orbit of asteroid 2012 DA14 is well understood – it will not come any closer than 17,150 miles (27,650 kilometers) above Earth’s surface during its flyby on Feb 15, 2013.

The asteroid’s orbit around the sun is roughly similar to that of Earth, and it makes relatively close approaches to our planet’s orbit twice per orbit. But, the 2013 flyby is by far the closest the asteroid will approach our planet for many decades. The next notable close approach to Earth will be on February 16, 2046, when the asteroid will pass no closer than 620,000 miles (1,000,000,000 kilometers) from the center-point of Earth.

Q: What makes 2012 DA14 special?

A: The flyby of asteroid 2012 DA14 is the closest ever predicted Earth approach for an object this large.

Q: How long will asteroid 2012 DA14 be within the Earth/moon system?

A: Asteroid 2012 DA14’s will be within the Earth/moon system for about 33 hours. Its orbit will bring it within the Earth/moon system (approach within one lunar distance, 237,000 miles of the Earth) on Feb. 15 at about 0300 UTC (7 p.m. PST on Thursday, Feb. 14). The asteroid will exit the Earth/moon system on Feb. 16 at about 1200 UTC (4 a.m. PST).

Continues …

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