Close Only Counts In Horseshoes

At about 2:30 p.m. EST on February 15th, 2013, a 50 meter (150 feet) diameter asteroid will approach within 28,000 km (17,000 miles) of the Earth, traveling at about 8 km/s (18,000 mph). Should you be worried?

That depends on your time frame. In the short term: absolutely not. There is NO CHANCE that this particular object will impact the earth. Will there be a major asteroid impact in the next century? Very probably not. None of the thousands of asteroids discovered in the last few years, when means of detecting them have greatly improved, show any danger of hitting us in that time period. Will such an object strike Earth eventually? Absolutely yes, it will, unless we do something about it.

For the immediate future, there is asteroid 2012 DA14, which will whiz past us tomorrow more closely than the communications satellites that ring the Earth’s equator. I wasn’t able to find (or to create) an animation of the closest approach, so here are two images from different angles.

This views the Earth from above the North Pole and shows the asteroid approaching from the bottom left. The times are UTC (Universal Coordinated Time) on February 15. Subtract five hours for Eastern Standard Time. Taken by itself, this view is deceptive, because it looks as though the asteroid will come crashing through the ring of geosynchronous satellites! (These satellites orbit at a distance where their orbital motion matches the Earth’s rotation. They consequently remain stationary above a particular spot on the surface.) But take a look at a different view looking at the Earth’s equator instead of the North Pole—from the side, if you will.

This lets us see that the asteroid approaches Earth mostly from the south and moves somewhat in the direction of our point of view as shown here.

Can those of us in the U.S. see it? Only if we plan a very quick trip to the other side of the world! The best visibility will be from Eastern Europe, Asia and Australia. A live webcast is planned from Israel (link is here) starting at 12:30 p.m. EST. My prediction, based on past experience? They will be absolutely slammed with people all over the world trying to link, and you won’t be able to get through. But it’s worth a try.

Here is an earlier post  about asteroid impact dangers. Don’t worry—at least not for another few centuries!

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