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Asteroid Will Not Hit Earth Next Week NASA Scientists Insist

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Feb-2013
Updated: 09-Feb-2013 01:32 PM

NASA is reassuring everyone that the asteroid that will pass close to Earth next week will not impact the planet.

The asteroid, 2012 DA14 will come as close as 17,200 miles from Earth's surface, but scientists insist it does not threaten Earth.   Instead, it will pass between the orbits where GPS satellites circle the globe and the higher geostationary orbits that are home primarily to communications satellites.  NASA officials said at a press conference on Thursday that satellite operators have been notified, but no concern has been expressed so far.  The chance it would collide with a satellite is extremely remote.

The asteroid will pass by Earth on Friday, February 15.   NASA scientists said they do not know exactly what this asteroid is composed of, but believe that it is similar in size (45 meters, or 150 feet, in diameter) and composition to the asteroid  that entered Earth's atmosphere in 1908 near the Tunguska River in Siberia.  The Tunguska asteroid exploded as it penetrated the lower layers of the atmosphere.   The resulting airburst flattened 800 square miles of forest.  

NASA's scientists are confident, however, that 2012 DA14 will pass by harmlessly.    Also, Earth's gravity field will perturb its orbit and make it even less likely that 2012 DA14 will pose a threat to Earth on subsequent passes.

The best place to see the asteroid flyby is Australia, but may also be visible in Eastern Europe and Asia, which will be in darkness.   It will not be visible to the naked eye.  The time of closest approach is during daylight in the United States, so cannot be seen from here at all.   Closest approach is at 2:24 pm Eastern Standard Time (11:24 am Pacific).   It will be in the Earth-Moon system for 33 hours.

NASA and others are conducting sky surveys to discover and catalog Near Earth Objects (NEOs)  -- asteroids and comets -- to determine which might pose a hazard to Earth.  Asteroids have been colliding with Earth throughout its history and many scientists believe that the after-effects of a major collision was responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.   As the efforts to find asteroids intensifies and technology improves, smaller asteroids like 2012 DA14 are being found.   This one is interesting not because it poses a threat to the planet, but because it is the closest predicted Earth approach for an object this size.

A video of NASA's February 7, 2013 press conference and a FAQ about the asteroid are available on NASA's website.


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