Incoming! Asteroid Could Pass Inside Earth’s Ring of Satellites

No Deep Impact expected here. But asteroid 0212 DA14 is still coming way too close for comfort

Forget 2012. February 15, 2013 is the date you need to know.

That’s when an asteroid first detected by the LaSagra observatory in Spain will pass closer to the earth than the orbits of some of our geosynchronous satellites, according to this NASA press release.

If you want an idea of how close that is, watch this simulation:

My first thought after watching that video? Holy crap, that’s close! That rock is definitely invading the earth’s personal space.

Asteroid's expected trajectory

So to reassure myself that 2012 DA14 would not be veering off course and hitting the planet it’s expected to miss by a mere three or four earth diameters, I headed to google. What better place to assess the risk for myself?

Bloggers seemed eager to assure me this space rock will not hit the Earth.

There was this from Bad Astronomy:

“…let’s get this out of the way right away: asteroid 2012 DA14 is almost certainly not going to hit the Earth next February. And by “almost certainly”, I mean it: the odds of an impact are so low they are essentially zero. This does not rule out an impact at some future date, but for now we’re safe.”

And then this, on msnbc.com:

“Despite feverish speculations from doomsayers, the near-Earth asteroid 2012 DA14 won’t slam into our planet next year, NASA researchers say.”

But since any watcher of Hollywood blockbusters knows asteroid impacts are no joke (also, space rocks are cool), I decided to investigate further.

Here is NASA’s “Earth Impact Risk Summary” for 2012 DA14.

I could be misinterpreting these numbers, but here are some of the key pieces of information:

  • Asteroid 2012 DA14 is thought to be about 45 meters in diameter. (Random fact: 45 meters is a little more than three back-to-back greyhound buses.)
  • The energy that would be released if Asteroid 2012 DA14 did hit Earth would be equivalent to about 2.4 megatons of TNT. (Random (more useful) fact: The biggest hydrogen bomb ever tested yielded an explosion more than 20 times greater).
  • The asteroid also gets a 0 on the Torino Scale, meaning either the rock is too small to worry about, the probability the rock will hit Earth is extremely low, or both.

So Earth’s not going the way of Armageddon, Deep Impact or the dinosaurs just yet.

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