No danger from asteroid's super close flyby -- this time

4:12 PM, Mar 5, 2012   |    comments
The orbit of asteroid 2012 DA14, showing where it intersects the orbit of Earth (NASA)
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ATLANTA (WXIA) - NASA says a newly-found asteroid will not hit the Earth on a super-close flyby next February. Scientists say they cannot rule out an impact on a future flyby, but as of this point, we're safe.

In late February, astronomers in Spain discovered an asteroid 150 feet in diameter with an orbit very similar to that of the Earth. The orbit of the asteroid, designated 2012 DA14, crosses paths with the Earth about every six months.

On its last flyby, DA14 passed about 1.5 million miles away - or about six times the distance from here to the moon.

The asteroid's next flyby, February 15, 2013, will bring DA14 closer to the Earth. Much closer. Astronomers say it will pass at a distance of 17,000 miles from the surface of the Earth - which is much closer to the ground than GPS and communications satellites orbit. In comparison, satellites that provide television and radio signals to the public orbit at an altitude of more than 22,000 miles. GPS satellites orbit at about 12,000 miles in altitude. The International Space Station orbits much closer - at a distance of about 225 miles.

Astronomer Phil Plait, author of Discover Magazine's Bad Astronomy blog, says the odds of an impact on February's pass are so low that there's no risk.

"Asteroid 2012 DA14 is almost certainly not going to hit the Earth next February. And by 'almost certainly,' I mean it: the odds of an impact are so low they are essentially zero. This does not rule out an impact at some future date, but for now we're safe," Plait said in a weekend blog entry.

Plait goes on to say that DA14 bears watching for any potential impact threat on future dates.

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