An asteroid is barreling toward Earth! But no worries … there’s no need to get Bruce Willis into a space shuttle and have him save us with a nuclear weapon just yet (even if we could, the shuttles are all retired, anyway). The asteroid, which has been dubbed 2012 DA14, will come close to Earth, but it won’t come raining down on our heads. Rather, the Earth’s gravity will swat the space rock out into the cosmos, and it will more than likely never been seen our way again.
According to NASA, the asteroid, which is about 150 feet wide (approximately 45 meters), will have its orbit adjusted, placing it in a new orbit which is far safer for our home world than the one it’s in now. The asteroid is set to pass by the Earth on Feb. 15.
2012 DA14 will pass Earth at a distance of about 17,000 or so miles (around 28,000 kilometers). This means that the wayward space rock will approach Earth closer than our own Moon (which orbits at a distance of about 250,000 miles, or 402,000 kilometers).
There is the remote possibility that the 2012 DA14 asteroid could smack a satellite on its way through the Earth system, but this is unlikely. Just to be safe, satellite controllers have been provided with the orbital tracking info for 2012 DA14.
“We’ve done a pretty good job of finding asteroids that are one kilometer or larger that could potentially impact the Earth,” said Lindley Johnson, program executive, Near-Earth Object (NEO) Observations Program, NASA. “Our estimates show that we’ve found about 95 percent of those larger asteroids that come close to the Earth. We’ve also found smaller objects like DA14.”
This event highlights the threat of near-Earth objects—a threat that mankind has virtually ignored. It is now widely known that a wayward comet or asteroid caused the mass extinction of the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago. NASA, along with numerous other organizations, has been working to better understand the threat posed by near-Earth Objects, or “NEOs.”
“A lot of various NASA-funded telescopes have been used to track and monitor NEOs. What these telescopes do is take multiple images of the sky over hours and asteroids are detected by their motion against the background stars,” said Timothy Spahr, the director of the Harvard-Smithsonian’s Center for Astrophysics Minor Planet Center. “The NEOWISE was our first serious space-based spacecraft to discover asteroids, and that was a really wonderful mission.”
It is a good thing that it is believed 2012 DA14 will not strike Earth. That’s because if it did, it would release the destructive energy equivalent of a two megaton atomic bomb. As for those that hope to catch a glimpse of the speeding space rock, good luck.
It’s traveling at 17,500 miles per hour, and stargazers in Europe, Asia, and Australia will have the best, though fleeting, chance to spot the asteroid. Also, you can forget about seeing 2012 DA14 without the aid of—at a minimum—a set of binoculars.
Despite the fact that craters have been found on all of the terrestrial worlds in our solar system—including our own—most people go through their lives oblivious to the fact that it is only a matter of time before another massive leftover piece of the solar system’s formation comes raining down on our heads.
“One of the reasons we had this teleconference a week ahead of the close approach is that Tim, Don, and I are going to leave the country. … No, we’re not going into hiding (laughs). We’re actually going to attempt to get closer to the close approach point of the asteroid. So we will be traveling to Vienna, Austria,” Johnson said, mentioning Don Yeomans, who is the manager of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory NEO office. “One of the things that we are working on is an international asteroid warning network that will utilize the existing capabilities that NASA and international space agencies currently possess. We will then work together with these agencies to detect and explore these objects. More importantly we want to discuss and work to collaborate with these agencies to discuss potential responses if we discover a NEO that’s on a trajectory that is threatening to Earth.”