A historical event is about to take place, but our beloved home planet of Earth could be in violent danger. Asteroid 2012 DA14 is on a path aimed at our planet and is currently closing in at a speed of 17,398 mph. Named for the date on which it was discovered, Asteroid 2012 DA14 will be making history with its near-Earth flyby, narrowly missing impact with Earth, scientists say, by a mere fifteen minutes. The estimated 150-foot-wide asteroid will be flying within 17,200 miles of our home planet on Friday, February 15, 2013, marking it as the nearest known flyby to date. Many questions have been raised concerning the effects of Earth’s gravitational pull upon the asteroid, while others are more concerned with thoughts of the Tunguska Comet which leveled the land around Tunguska River, Siberia in 1908.
Scientists have warned that if Asteroid 2012 DA14 were to collide with Earth, it would release the energy equivalent of 2.4 million tons of TNT and completely obliterate 1206.7 square miles of our planet; this estimate is based off of the smaller asteroid which struck Siberia. The results would be deadly.
“No Earth impact is possible,” states NASA’s Near-Earth Object program manager, Donald Yeomans at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “No on has raised a red flag, nor will they. I certainly don’t anticipate any problems whatsoever.”
While astronomers are highly certain about the timeline of events, they are still uncertain about the actual size of the asteroid. Estimations have capped at around 150-feet-wide, marking the asteroid to be the size of half of the length of a football field. Perspectively, the asteroid that brought the dinosaurs to their extinction measured at approximately 5.97 miles wide; Asteroid 2012 DA14 is estimated to be only 0.5% of the size of that asteroid. In essence, this is a pebble compared to the size of a medium mountain. Still, the likelihood of something this size striking Earth is once in every 1,200 years. A close, harmless encounter like this is thought to occur every 40 years.
Still, many companies worry about the safety of their satellites as Asteroid 2012 DA14 enters Earth’s geosynchronous ring. Within this ring, 22,236 miles above the earth’s equator, our communication and weather satellites continuously orbit at differing heights. This leaves hundreds of valuable satellites in danger, as the asteroid is said to pass within 17,200 miles of the earth, as well as within this geosynchronous ring. To put the closest distance between Earth and Asteroid 2012 DA14 into perspective, the moon orbits 239,000 miles above the earth; making this asteroid invasion take place staggeringly close to our planet Earth.
Right now astronomers expect that Earth’s gravity will shift the asteroid’s orbit closer to the sun, which means Asteroid 2012 DA14 is unlikely to get cosy with our planet again for another 100 years. However, the radar images received by NASA should give a better sense of the object’s shape and spin, which will improve our understanding of its likely future path.
What do you need to do to prepare? Scientists say virtually nothing. Many are proposing that you have a backup communication plan in place, in the event that satellites are destroyed in this event. Scientists and amateur observers are gearing up to view this historical flyby scheduled for 1:24 p.m. CST (19:24 GMT) on Friday, February 15, 2013. Will you be able to see it?
Copyright 2013 Jennifer McDonald / All rights reserved.