Asteroid to buzz Earth on Friday

Posted by Emma Woollacott

An asteroid the size of a small office block is due to whizz past Earth on Friday, traveling at over 28,000 miles per hour.

Weighing around 130,000 tonnes, 2012DA14 will get within 28,000 km of Earth.

"This is well inside the geostationary ring, where many communication satellites are located," says Detlef Koschny, responsible for near-Earth objects at ESA’s Space Situational Awareness office. "There is no danger to these satellites, however, as the asteroid will come ‘from below’ and not intersect the geostationary belt.”

The asteroid was discovered by the La Sagra Sky Survey on 22 February 2012. Its small size and previously unknown orbit meant that it was spotted only after it had flown past Earth at about seven times the distance of the moon.

"Although there is absolutely no chance of this particular asteroid hitting Earth, it does highlight the dangers of so called ‘Near Earth Objects’ of which about ten thousand of the expected one million have been identified," says University of Hertfordshire astronomer Dr Mark Gallaway.

"By monitoring its movements we will be able to improve our understanding of these potentially hazardous objects."

The asteroid is too faint to see with the naked eye, but will be visible through binoculars at approximately 8pm GMT. Its closest approach to the Earth will be over Australia.

"Its orbit can be computed quite accurately using Europe’s NEODyS asteroid database. These computations show that a collision with Earth can be excluded quite safely at least for this century," says Koschny.

"If this object were made of iron and it were to hit our planet, it could create a crater comparable to the 1.5 km Meteor Crater near Flagstaff, Arizona, for example. However, it won’t."