A newly discovered asteroid will come so close to Earth next year that it actually passes below many man-made satellites.
Just 50 meters across, 2012 DA14 was hard to spot. The La Sagra Sky Survey observatory in Spain discovered itonly on 22 February - after it had flown past Earth at about seven times the distance of the moon.
However, current predictions indicate that on its next flyby, due on 15 February 2013, it will pass Earth at just 24,000 km. Scientists have ruled out a collision.
"This is a safe distance, but it is still close enough to make the asteroid visible in normal binoculars," says Detlef Koschny, responsible for near-earth objects in ESA’s Space Situational Awareness office.
A preliminary orbit calculation shows that 2012 DA14 has a very Earth-like orbit, with a period of 366.24 days, and 'jumps' in and out of the path of the Earth twice a year.
Astronomers will use next year's close approach for more studies and calculate the Earth and moon’s gravitational effects on the asteroid.
"We will also be keen to see the asteroid’s resulting orbit after the next close approach in order to compute any future risk of impact," says Koschny.
ESA is currently planning a network of one-meter telescopes with a combined field of view large enough to image the complete sky in one night.
"We are developing a system of automated optical telescopes that can detect asteroids just like this one, with the goal of being able spot them at least three weeks before closest approach to Earth," says Koschny.