All eyes have been on the incoming near-Earth asteroid 2012 DA14 over the past few weeks, with many speculations of if — and what if — the 50-meter-wide space rock poses any danger to us here on Earth. True, it will come well within the orbit of the Moon, even passing by closer than geosynchronous communication satellites. But it will still remain a very safe 17,500 miles (28,160 km) away (give or take a few hundred miles) and isn’t expected to change its course anytime soon. Even the satellites should all be fine — there’s an awful lot of room out there!
The video above, released by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, features asteroid specialist Don Yeomans who explains what’s going to happen on Friday and why there’s no need to worry.
Still, it’s another example of how we are constantly having our personal space violated by objects from elsewhere in the solar system, and why we need to make sure we invest in methods to identify, monitor, and, eventually, deflect any potentially hazardous incoming bodies. DA14 may not be the biggest asteroid to come our way recently, but it’s one of the closest (and for an idea of just how big it is, click below:)
At 45-50 meters wide, DA14 is about half the width of a football field. But it’s got three dimensions too, so there’s considerable mass there. Still, while an impact from something that size wouldn’t decimate all life on Earth it would lay waste to a city, were it to strike smack in the center of one. (Think Tunguska 1908, except with office buildings instead of pine trees.) A 190,000-ton chunk of silicate rock traveling 8 times the speed of a rifle bullet definitely carries some destructive energy, if it’s suddenly brought to a halt.
But — it won’t be. Instead DA14 will just keep on its merry way around the Sun, like it always has, except this time it will be watched by more than a few folks here on Earth. In addition to the thousands of amateur skywatchers who will undoubtedly try to spot it in their binoculars and telescopes as it whizzes past, NASA’s radar observatory at Goldstone, CA will be bouncing waves off of it in an attempt to better map its shape, reflectivity, and determine its motion so scientists can calculate its future trajectory.
On this swing by, however, we are safe. Close, but safe.
“Its orbit is very well known, we know exactly where it’s going to go, and it cannot hit the Earth.”
– Don Yeomans, Senior Scientist, JPL
It’s already known that it will miss us by an even larger amount on its next visit on Feb. 16, 2046, coming only within two lunar distances, but it’s good to have an extended itinerary on such objects. After all, if there’s one thing asteroids have an abundance of, it’s time!
Also, check out an animation of DA14’s flyby — from an asteroid’s perspective — below: