Asteroid 2012 DA14 is going to just miss the Earth on February 15th. It will pass by at a distance of just 14,913 miles, which is closer than many satellites orbit. If it did strike the Earth, which it may in the future, the 164ft long asteroid has about as much destructive potential as an H-bomb. So if it hit an urban area the damage would be enormous, and that’s not even including side effects such as changes in the weather, and possible tsunamis.
As Don Yeomans, of NASA’s Near Earth Object Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, says: it will be a “record-setting close approach. 2012 DA14 will definitely not hit Earth. The orbit of the asteroid is known well enough to rule out an impact.”
Researchers have estimated that if a strike did occur, that it would level an area larger than all of Greater London. Just back in 1908 there was an asteroid impact of similar size, the Tunguska event. The (estimated) 131ft asteroid completely flattened over 772 square miles of Siberian forest.
“That is an area the size of Greater London,” said Dr. Gerhard Drolshagen, a near-Earth object observer from the European Space Agency’s Space Situational Awareness (SSA) office. “This asteroid is a little bigger.”
Dr Yeomans continued: “Since regular sky surveys began in the 1990s, we’ve never seen an object this big get so close to Earth.”
“The rock in question is believed to be made of stone, rather than metal or ice and Yeomans estimates an asteroid of that sort flies past Earth on average every 40 years, but is only likely to strike the planet ever 1,200 years or so. An estimated 500,000 near-Earth objects measuring up to 98ft are believed to be undiscovered.”
Dr Detlef Koschny, also from the SSA, said: “We are developing a system of automated optical telescopes that can detect asteroids just like this one, with the goal of being able to spot them at least three weeks before closest approach to Earth.”
Unfortunately, even though it will be passing very close to the Earth it will not be visible with the naked eye. It will peak around an apparent magnitude of 7.4.
The asteroid’s orbit will likely be changed to some degree by its very close pass-by, but isn’t expected to pass any closer than 0.0004 AU from the center-point of the Earth on its next pass-by in 2046.