Asteroids Too Close to Home

Astronomers estimate that there are around 500,000 undiscovered objects that are near Earth. Each one is at least 30 meters across. One of those objects is the recently discovered asteroid 2012 DA14. This asteroid was recently discovered by citizen scientists on February 22, 2012 after it passed by our little planet. The asteroid measures 50 meters across and is on an orbit one day longer than Earth’s orbit. The asteroid’s orbit and Earth’s orbit crosses paths twice each year.

Astronomers with Spain’s La Sagra Sky Survey Observatory expect the asteroid will again pass by Earth around February 15, 2013. Astronomers expect that it will be around 17,000 miles away on its return (a little too close for comfort).  As they study 2012 DA14, they hope to learn more about asteroids near our planet. Near-Earth Objects (NEO) have long been a dilemma for scientists, especially since the discovery of 99942 Apophis in 2004. So these studies will hopefully shed some light on the subject.

Astronomers are still unsure of the effect of Earth’s gravitational pull on the asteroid. Dr. David Dunham with NASA says that the asteroid may break into several small pieces when it encounters Earth’s gravity. He also says that the asteroid may burn up in the atmosphere. Many experts expect that our planet will have no effect on the asteroid which will continue to share Earth’s orbit. So who really knows? The one thing most scientists do agree on is that the asteroid poses no real threat to Earth. I think we can all agree that this is a good thing.

Astronomers and government officials still have no real plan should an asteroid that poses a real threat head our way – although there is some great research happening in the area (see my recent post regarding the use of lasers to deflect asteroids here).

Those of you that are planning to watch the asteroid as it flies by next year should make plans to observe in the darkest place you can find (away from city lights). Let me know if you’re planning on watching…maybe we can do a virtual asteroid watching party!


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