Asteroid to make close pass by Earth on February 15; no impact seen

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida Fri Feb 8, 2013 5:41am IST

Related Topics

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - A small asteroid will pass closer to Earth next week than the TV satellites that ring the planet, but there is no chance of an impact, NASA said Thursday.

The celestial visitor, known as 2012 DA14, was discovered last year by a group of amateur astronomers in Spain. The asteroid is about the size of an Olympic swimming pool at 150 feet (46 m) in diameter and is projected to come as close as 17,100 miles (27,520 km) from Earth during its February 15 approach.

That would make it the closest encounter since scientists began routinely monitoring asteroids about 15 years ago.

Television, weather and communications satellites fly about 500 miles (800 km) higher. The moon is 14 times farther away.

Even so, "no Earth impact is possible," astronomer Donald Yeomans, with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., told reporters during a conference call.

The time of the asteroid's closest approach will be 2:24 p.m. EST (1924 GMT), daylight in the United States, but dark in Eastern Europe, Asia and Australia where professional and amateur astronomers will be standing by with telescopes and binoculars to catch a view.

DA14 will soar through the sky at about 8 miles (13 km) per second. At that speed, an object of similar size on a collision course with Earth would strike with the force of about 2.4 million tons of dynamite. The last time that happened was in 1908 when an asteroid or comet exploded over Siberia, leveling 80 million trees over 830 square miles (2,150 sq km).

"Although they wouldn't (cause) a global catastrophe if they impact the Earth, they still do a lot of regional destruction," said Lindley Johnson, who oversees the Near-Earth Object Observations Program at NASA headquarters in Washington DC.

NASA has been on a mission to find and track all near-Earth objects that are .62 miles (1 km) in diameter or larger. The effort is intended to give scientists and engineers as much time as possible to learn if an asteroid or comet is on a collision course with Earth, in hopes sending up a spacecraft or taking other measures to avert catastrophe.

About 66 million years ago, a 6-mile diameter (10 km) object smashed into what is now the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico leading to the demise of the dinosaurs as well as most plant and animal life on Earth.

The planet is regularly pelted with objects from space, adding up to about 100 tons of material per day, Yeomans said.

"Basketball-sized objects come in daily. Volkswagen-sized objects come in every couple of weeks. As you get to larger and larger sizes the number of objects out there is less and less, so the frequency of hits goes down," Yeomans said.

Something the size of DA14 can be expected to strike Earth about every 1,200 years.

"For objects of this size, this is the closest predicted encounter that we're aware of," Yeomans said.

(Editing by David Adams and Cynthia Osterman)

FILED UNDER:
Comments (0)
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

  • Most Popular
  • Most Shared

Ebola Outbreak

REUTERS SHOWCASE

Neclear Restart

Neclear Restart

Japan's Sendai nuclear restart in final stage: local governor.  Full Article 

Fight Unites

Fight Unites

Kurds' battle for Kobani unites a people divided by borders.  Full Article 

Railway Revamp

Railway Revamp

China to spend at least $33 bln on new railway lines.  Full Article 

Controversial Remark

Controversial Remark

Thousands denounce HSBC board member's likening of Hong Kong people to freed slaves.  Full Article 

Apple's Cook signals front line of new gay rights battle

Cook Speaks Up

Apple's Cook signals front line of new gay rights battle.  Full Article 

Gas Deal

Gas Deal

Ukraine, Russia, EU agree to natural gas supply deal.  Full Article 

Jerusalem Tensions

Jerusalem Tensions

Kerry urges restraint, expresses worry over tensions in Jerusalem.  Full Article 

Myanmar Roundtable

Myanmar Roundtable

Obama urges progress in Myanmar ahead of rare roundtable.  Full Article 

Active Volcano

Active Volcano

National Guard arrives in Hawaii town threatened by lava.  Full Article 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device.  Full Coverage