Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Asteroid 2012 DA14 to break across earth's orbital plane

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A space rock the size of half the distance of a football field is closing in on earth and will make one of the closest flyby's of our planet in recent history.

Asteroid 2012 DA14 will pass very close to earth on Friday, soaring to within 17,200 miles of the surface, as it speeds across our solar system.

"There is no chance of this object hitting the earth," notes chief astronomer David Dundee of the Tellus Science Museum near Atlanta. "If it were to hit the earth, it would flatten an area 750 miles in diameter."

NASA is calling this space encounter "a close shave".

Most of the communications and weather satellites are located in an orbit 22,236 miles above the planet. DA14 will pass much lower than that.

"This is a record setting close approach," states Donald Yeomans, a project manager at NASA's Near Earth Object Observation Program. "The odds of an impact with a satellite are extremely remote."

NASA adds that the International Space Station and it's crew of six will not be any danger as it orbits 250 miles above earth.

Closest approach on Friday is estimated to be 2:24 p.m. EST, as it soars from the south pole and up over the Indian Ocean at a speed of 17,450 m.p.h.

Yeomans said the asteroid lives in an orbit around the Sun similar to that of earth.

Little is known about DA14 and as it hurtles through earth's orbital plane NASA plans to record every measure of it.

Telescopes and radar antennas will be trained on the asteroid for several days, recording it's chemical make-up, to see if it rotates, and to measure it's size and true speed, Dundee adds.

DA14 is believed to be the last asteroid of it's size to swing by earth for the next thirty years.

"There is suspicion that it is this type of asteroid may hold water," Dundee added.

Due to the time of approach, sky watchers in North America will not be able to view the object due to daylight conditions.

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville will track the DA14's flight with a camera mounted on a telescope. Viewers can visit Marshall's UStream page beginning at 9:00 p.m. EST, for a three hour live stream event.

(Charles Atkeison covers science and technology for Follow his updates via Twitter @AbsolutSpaceGuy.)

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