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Asteroid vs. Earth: Cross your fingers on Feb 15, 2013

Graphic depicts the trajectory of asteroid 2012 DA14 on Feb 15, 2013. In this view, we are looking down from above Earth's north pole. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

(February 9, 2013) On February 15, small near-Earth asteroid 2012 DA14 will fly so close to Earth that it will pass inside the ring of geosynchronous weather and communications satellites. The flyby of asteroid 2012 DA14 is the closest ever predicted Earth approach for an object this large. If it impacted the Earth, this asteroid would flatten an area about the size of the DFW metroplex.

Thanks to NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office, today we can accurately predict the asteroid’s path with the observations obtained from professional observatories around the globe.

We know a lot about this asteroid that was discovered in 2012 by the La Sagra observatory inSpain. This hunk of iron is approximately 150 feet (45 meters) in diameter.  In other words, if we placed the asteroid on the goal line, it would reach the  50 yard line at Wilkerson-Sanderson stadium.

Author's preferred view of the path Asteroid 2012 DA 14 will follow on Feb. 15, 2013.

Technically, Asteroid 2012 DA14 will be closest to Earth on Feb. 15 at approximately 19:24 UTC which is 1:24 p.m. in Rockwall.  At the time of closest approach, the asteroid will be over the eastern Indian Ocean, off Sumatra– approximate latitude: -6 deg South. / longitude: 97.5 deg East which is well out of view for those of us around 96 degrees West longitude.

When asteroid 2012 DA14 is closest to Earth, it will only be 17,200 miles (27,700 kilometers) above Earth’s surface on Feb 15, 2013. To put things in perspective, this distance is well outside Earth’s atmosphere, but it is inside the satellites in geostationary orbit, which is located 22,200 miles (35,800 kilometers) above Earth’s surface. If an asteroid were to have a conjunction with one of the satellites in “Geo,” then we could possibly experience an impact in global communications.

Asteroid DA14 will not impact Earth. It seems these are the first words off the lips of any NASA representative when discussing this closest recorded approach of any asteroid to Earth. Of course, the orbit of asteroid 2012 DA14 is well understood – it will not come any closer than 17,150 miles (27,650 kilometers) above Earth’s surface during its flyby on Feb 15, 2013. More detail about the orbit of 2012 DA 14 around the Sun shows that  is 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 16, 2046, when the asteroid will pass no closer than 620,000 miles (1,000,000,000 kilometers) from the center-point of Earth.

Max Corneau, aka AstroDad, of Rockwall

Our Universe Today is a column written by Blue Ribbon News special contributor, Max Corneau, aka AstroDad, of Rockwall.

Max retired from the U.S. Army in 2009 as a Lieutenant Colonel, Senior Space Operations Officer and Master Aviator.  He amassed over 3,200 hours as a pilot of Special Electronic Mission Airplanes.  Since 2004 he has been a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador, is a Master of Astronomical Outreach through the Astronomcial League and built his own astronomical observatory. His amazing images can be seen at AstroDad.com.

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