Why asteroid 2012 DA14 won’t ruin your day

The Planetary Society
Miguel Hurtado, Jaime Nomen, and Jaume Andreu, discoverers of 2012 DA14.

On February 15, a small space rock known as 2012 DA14 will speed by our planet about 17,000 miles above our surface, just missing geosynchronous satellites. Don’t worry; we’re safe for now: asteroid 2012 DA14 will not hit us. Astronomers have ruled out the possibility of a collision this year, and when the asteroid is at its closest approach next week, the folks at Goldstone will ping the rock with their radar system to further refine where this rock will be in the future. (There’s a vanishingly small 1/7.5 million chance of it hitting in 2110, but by then we should be able to knock it out of the way, right?)

2012 DA14 is about 150 feet (or 45 meters) across, roughly half a city block or the diameter of the Hindenburg zeppelin. According to astronomet Alex Parker, it weighs 1/45 as much as the annual potato output of Idaho in a year. If something this size were to hit Earth, it’d create an explosion as destructive as the Tunguska Event of 1908. You better not be underneath should that ever happen.

NASA/JPL
Asteroid 2012 DA14 as it approaches Earth, passing closer than the moon and TV satellites! [Credit: NASA/JPL]

The coolest thing about 2012 DA14 isn’t the closeness of its flyby or its relatively large size: It’s that amateur astronomers at La Sagra Sky Survey—and not a robotic sky survey—discovered the stony asteroid last February. Searching for near-Earth asteroids and comets and using a camera sponsored by the Planetary Society, Jaime Nomen and his cohort detected far-off 2012 DA14. Some of the photos look grainy, but remember, this asteroid was almost 3 million miles away when Jamie et al. first spotted it! I doubt my cameraphone sensor could do better.

That said, with the right equipment and dark skies, anyone can discover asteroids. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be the one finding the next rock that narrowly misses us!

Want to take a good look at 2012 DA14? You’ll need a telescope or a super stable set of binoculars, but also to be in Indonesia—or less ideally, the rest of Asia, or Eastern Europe, or Australia. We’re lucky that this object’s not going to hit us, but will we be ready for the next big asteroid that inevitably hits us? Unlike the dinosaurs, we have a space program.

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