NASA this weekend revealed that an asteroid named 2012 DA14 will come very close to Earth on February 15. The object will swing within 27,700 kilometers (17,200 miles) of the Earth’s surface – close enough to pass within the geosynchronous satellites that orbit the planet, and only around one-thirteenth the distance from the Earth to the moon.
NASA researchers stated that, according to their observations, there is no chance the asteroid will collide with the Earth. It will cruise by at around 7.8 kilometers per second (17,400 miles per hour). The flyby will set a record for a close approach of an object of such size. Astronomers estimate that such an event occurs an average of every 40 years. A collision with an object the size of 2012 DA14 is expected an average of every 1,200 years.
According to observations of the asteroid’s brightness, object itself is not large. It is estimated to be only 45 meters (150 feet) across. When it passes closest to Earth on February 15, it will appear only as a point of light. Though it will be too faint to see with the naked eye, it should be visible with binoculars or a small telescope. Though the best viewing can be seen in Indonesia, Eastern Europe, Asia, and Australia will get a good view during the object’s closest approach.
2012 DA14 has only been known of for one year. In February 2012 astronomers at the La Sagra Sky Survey discovered the asteroid, which had just made a distant passage of Earth. The object’s orbital period (or, “year”) is 368 days, which very close to the Earth’s orbital period of 365 days. This year’s near-miss of Earth will alter the asteroid’s orbital period, shortening it to around 317 days.
(Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech)