2012 DA14: Too close for comfort

It's an asteroid, it's called 2012 DA14, it was only discovered last year, it is going to pass by Earth on Friday of next week (February 15) and it is going to set a record for a close miss of a space object. This monster is approaching at 4.8 miles per second. However, there is good news. It isn't going to hit... so they say.

The Russian Federal Space Agency (Federal'noe Kosmicheskoe Agentsvo) confirms that the object will fly near the Earth on February 16 MSK time, between approximately twenty to twenty-five miles from our planet (nearest point 17,200 miles). This is lower than some geostationary satellites and even closer than the upcoming near-impact with the Doomsday Asteroid, Apophis, scheduled for 2029.

The Russian Federal Space Agency quoted Sergei Smirnov of the Pulkovo Observatory, who stated that "We can find out about whether there are smaller objects accompanying Asteroid 2012 DA14. There is some danger that these companions damage satellites. But for people on Earth the upcoming meeting is not dangerous," in an interview with Interfax NW. What Smirnov said next is concerning.

He stated that the proximity of the object to the Earth can change its orbit. The asteroid will pass inside the ring of geosynchronous satellites which measure weather conditions and which provide communications. These satellites are stationed at 22,200 miles or 35,800 kilometres away. It will come within one tenth of the distance between Earth and the Moon.

NASA agrees with the Russian Space Agency that there is no danger posed by the asteroid next week, stating that its trajectory has been accurately predicted and "it is therefore known that there is no chance that the asteroid might be on a collision course with Earth".

However, the approach will be a record close approach for a space object. 2012 DA14 will pass closest to Earth on February 15 at precisely 19:24 UTC, give or take 2 minutes, when it will be over the Eastern Indian Ocean, Latitude -6 degrees South/Longitude 97.5 degrees East, over the Indonesian island of Sumatra, when it will be around 17,200 miles or 27,700 kilometres above Earth. It shall remain between the Earth and the Moon for 33 hours and then is expected to come back again in 2046, but will pass further out (620,000 miles or 1 million kilometres).

It is estimated that the object has a mass of 130,000 metric tonnes and is 150 feet across (45 metres). It is travelling at 17,450 miles per hour (28,100 km/h), 4.8 miles per second. It was discovered on February 23, 2012, by the Astronomical Observatory of Mallorca's La Sagra Sky Survey, in Spain's Balearic Isles.

Only one per cent of the estimated 500,000 to 1 million asteroids have been charted. It has been estimated that an object of this size would produce 2.5 megatons of energy upon impact, causing regional devastation.


Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey



Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey