Friday is Asteroid Flyby Day
Asteroid 2012DA14. There’s a name sure to evoke visions of armageddon and planetary destruction. Errr, no. Not really I guess.
Asteroid 2012 DA14 is a small near-Earth object – approximately 150 feet (45 meters) in diameter. On Friday 15 February 2013, the asteroid will pass by our planet at a remarkably close distance. In fact a record close approach for a known object of this size.
NASA say Relax! though – the asteroid’s path is understood well enough that there is no chance of a collision with the Earth. 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. Nevertheless, the flyby will provide a unique opportunity for researchers to study a near-Earth object up close.
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.
Here’s a Reality Check from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory:
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 15, 2046, when the asteroid will pass no closer than 620,000 miles (1,000,000 kilometers) from the center-point of Earth.
Still, if you were planning a high altitude sky dive on Friday you may want to consider rescheduling.