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Asteroid 2012 DA14 , 150ft across is set to whizz by Earth

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February 6, 2013 in Science

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 Asteroid is set to whizz by Earth INSIDE orbit of communication  satellites

  • Space rock 150ft  across set to whizz by just after Valentine’s Day
  • It will miss our  home planet by just 17,200 miles – close in cosmic terms
  • An impact  would be equivalent to 2.25 megaton atom bomb

Planet Earth is set to have a very close  encounter with an asteroid the day after Valentine’s Day.

The asteroid – which goes by the  name  of 2012 DA14 – will miss our  planet by just 17,200 miles, which is a   near miss in space terms.

The asteroid, which is about 150ft across,  will come closer to Earth than the ring of geosynchronous satellites, which are  in orbit about 22,200 miles above the Earth.

Asteroid
Space rock: Although it will come uncomfortably close to  the Earth, the asteroid will only be visible  minimum with a good pair of  binoculars

 

 

THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN AN ASTEROID  HITS: THE 1908 TUNGUSKA EVENT

 

On June 30 1908,  in a remote part of Russia, a fireball was seen streaking across the daytime  sky.

This event – now  known as the Tunguska  event – is believed to have been caused by an incoming  meteor which  exploded in the atmosphere.

Evenks natives and  Russian settlers in the hills north-west of Lake Baikal reported a column of  bluish light, nearly as bright as the sun, moving across the sky.

About 10 minutes  later, there was a flash and a sound similar to artillery fire.

Eyewitnesses  closer to the explosion reported the sound source moving east to north.

The sounds were  accompanied by a shockwave that knocked people off their feet and broke windows  hundreds of miles away.

The majority of  witnesses reported only the sounds and the tremors rather than the sighting of  the explosion.

The explosion  registered on seismic stations across Eurasia.

In some places the  shock wave would have been equivalent to an earthquake of 5.0 on the Richter  scale.

 

 

 

It also produced  fluctuations in atmospheric pressure strong enough to be detected in the UK.

Over the  next few days, night skies in Asia and Europe were aglow – and all of this came  from a meteorite exploding some four to six miles above the Earth’s  surface.

Says Don  Yeomans, manager of the Near-Earth Object Office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion  Laboratory: ‘The generally agreed upon theory is that on the morning of June 30,  1908, a large space rock, about 120 feet across, entered the atmosphere of  Siberia and then detonated in the sky.’

Although the asteroid is small, if it  were  on a collision course with Earth, it would produce the equivalent  of 2.5  megatons of TNT.

And this is just one of some 500,000 rocks  circling the Earth.

The good news is that scientists say that  that  isn’t enough to wipe out life on the planet – but it could wipe out a  city the size of Greater London.

However, a miss is as good as a mile, and  unless you’re specifically looking for it, you almost certainly won’t see the  asteroid.

NASA says that it won’t be bright enough to  see with the naked eye, but that a good pair of binoculars or a telescope should  be able to pick it out.

On the 15th, said NASA, the asteroid will  travel rapidly from the southern evening sky into the northern morning sky, with  its closest Earth approach occurring about 19:26 UTC when it will achieve a  magnitude of less than seven, which is somewhat fainter than naked eye  visibility.

About four minutes after its Earth close  approach, there is a good chance it will pass into the Earth’s shadow for about  18 minutes or so before reappearing from the eclipse.

When travelling rapidly into the northern  morning sky, 2012 DA14 will quickly fade in brightness.

The best view for astronomers will be from  Indonesia, says NASA, while stargazers in Eastern Europe, Asia and Australia  should also be able to get a good look at the space rock as it whizzes past us  at a speed of 17,400mph.

The asteroid was discovered only last year,  by astronomers in southern Spain.

The team was operating from the La Sagra Sky  Survey observatory near Granada in Spain. The observatory uses automated  telescopes to track small asteroids and comets.

2012 DA14 was discovered after the  astronomers decided to search areas of the sky where asteroids are not usually  seen.

Its orbital period around the sun is very  close to our own, at 368 days, and it has made a close approach every year.

This year’s is the closest, say scientists -  and the good news is that this is the closest it will get to Earth for at least  three decades.

Dr Gerhard Drolshagen, a near-Earth object observer from the European  Space  Agency’s Space Situational Awareness (SSA) office, said: ‘In future times the  possibility of a collision cannot be completely excluded. It is highly unlikely,  but the chance is greater than zero.’

The asteroid’s next very close shave with  Earth will be in 2046, when it will squeak by us at a distance of 37,000  miles.

And there’s another close encounter in 97  years’ time, on February 16 2110, when the chance that it will hit the Earth is  1 in 7,692,308,000.

Near miss: the asteroid will pass closer to Earth than the ring of satellites above the planetThe asteroid will pass closer to Earth than  the ring of satellites above the planet

Read more: asteroid set to miss earth


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