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Small Asteroid to Pass Close to Earth Next Week

Feb 05, 2013 02:38 AM EST
Asteroid flyby
Graphic depicts the trajectory of asteroid 2012 DA14 during its close approach, as seen edge-on to Earth's equatorial plane. The graphic demonstrates why the asteroid is invisible to northern hemisphere observers until just before close approach: it is approaching from "underneath" our planet. On the other hand, after close approach it will be favorably placed for observers in the northern hemisphere.
(Photo : NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A lesser-known asteroid called 2012 DA14 will pass very close to Earth next week, but there is no chance that the space rock will be on a collision course with the planet, announced NASA.

Asteroid 2012 DA14 is a small near-Earth object that is 150 feet (45 meters) in diameter. The asteroid will be closest to Earth Feb. 15 at around 2:24 p.m. EST. The space rock will be so close that it will pass inside the ring of geosynchronous weather and communications satellites. At its closest approach, the asteroid will be about 17,200 miles above Earth's surface.

The close-approach distance between asteroid 2012 DA14 and the Earth is only about one-tenth the distance between Earth and the moon. It will be the closest approach by an asteroid of its size. The flyby will not have any impact on Earth.

"NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office can accurately predict the asteroid's path with the observations obtained, and it is therefore known that there is no chance that the asteroid might be on a collision course with Earth," officials at the space agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., wrote in a statement Friday (Feb. 1).

"Nevertheless, the flyby will provide a unique opportunity for researchers to study a near-Earth object up close," the statement added.

Because of its smaller size, the space rock will appear as a point of light in the biggest of optical telescopes. It is too faint to be visible with the naked eye, but can be easily seen with a good set of binoculars or a small telescope.

The best location to view the asteroid's closest approach will be Indonesia. The space rock can also be observed in Eastern Europe, Asia and Australia. However, it will have receded and faded by the time the Earth's rotation brings the asteroid into view for observers in the continental United States, NASA officials said.

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