An asteroid is set to give Earth a close shave this month as it passes closer than typical satellites when it moves by. NASA scientists say asteroid 2012 DA14 won’t hit our planet on Feb. 15 as it passes within 17,200 miles in a very close encounter.
“This is a record-setting close approach,” Don Yeomans, the head of NASA’s asteroid-tracking program, told Space.com in a statement. “Since regular sky surveys began in the 1990s, we’ve never seen an object this big get so close to Earth.”
Asteroid 2012 DA14 was discovered last year by an amateur team of stargazers at the La Sagra Sky Survey observatory in Spain. Yeomans stressed that, while the asteroid’s approach bring it closer than the geosynchronous satellites orbiting 22,245 miles (35,800 km) above Earth, 2012 DA14 poses no threat of a deadly collision with the planet.
“2012 DA14 will definitely not hit Earth. The orbit of the asteroid is known well enough to rule out an impact,” Yeomans, who heads the Near-Earth Object Program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. He added that the odds it will slam into a satellite are “extremely remote.”
A fairly typical asteroid like 2012 DA14 — which measures 150 feet (45 meters) across — zips by Earth about every 40 years, but only strikes every 1,200 years, Yeomans estimated, and the impact of such an object would not be catastrophic over a wide area.
Asteroid 2012 DA14 is about the same size of the object that exploded in the atmosphere above Siberia in 1908, leveling hundreds of square miles in what scientists now call the “Tunguska Event,” NASA officials explained.
Yeomans said an asteroid similar in size to 2012 DA14 slammed into Earth 50,000 years ago to create the famed Meteor Crater in Arizona. But the Meteor Crater asteroid was made of iron, which made its impact especially strong.
When asteroid 2012 DA14 zooms by Earth, NASA scientists will be tracking the space rock closely. The space agency plans to use its Goldstone radar in California’s Mojave Desert to follow the asteroid from Feb. 16 to Feb. 20. The observation campaign should help astronomers build a 3D map asteroid 2012 DA14, as well as refine estimates on the space rock’s shape, spin and reflectivity, NASA officials said.
Since the asteroid will be moving across the sky so fast, only the most experienced amateur astronomers are likely to catch its close pass.