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Safeway-size asteroid to get closer to Earth than satellites

NASA says there's no chance this "small asteroid" will strike the Earth, but it could be nasty if it did.

The path of near-Earth asteroid 2012 DA14 is seen passing close to Earth on February 15, 2013.
NASA/JPL Near-Earth Object Program Office

An asteroid big enough to level a major metropolitan area (probably several of them, actually) will definitely not be doing any such thing this month, but it will come pretty darn close.

First spotted by a Spanish observatory last year, small asteroid 2012 DA14 (in this case "small" means about 150 feet in diameter, or roughly the size of a supermarket) will pass within 3.5 Earth radii of the surface of our planet on February 15.

That means that this big, menacing, but ultimately harmless space rock will actually be closer to us than our many satellites in geosynchronous orbit about 22,000 miles above the equator.

NASA's near-earth object (NEO) program at its Jet Propulsion laboratory swears there is no chance the asteroid will strike the Earth, but let's be morbid for just a second and pretend it did. An object that size striking the Earth would be similar to the asteroid that created that really huge crater in Arizona, creating a massive explosion many times more powerful than the atomic bomb blast that destroyed Hiroshima, Japan.

Hey J.J. Abrams, looks like you have a new script to write. You're welcome.

Again, this nuclear winter storyline is pure fiction. But NASA says that asteroid 2012 DA14 will provide a unique opportunity for NEO observation and study on February 15:

On this date, the asteroid will travel rapidly from the southern evening sky into the northern morning sky with its closest Earth approach occurring about 19:26 UTC when it will achieve a magnitude of less than seven, which is somewhat fainter than naked eye visibility. About 4 minutes after its Earth close approach, there is a good chance it will pass into the Earth's shadow for about 18 minutes or so before reappearing from the eclipse. When traveling rapidly into the northern morning sky, 2012 DA14 will quickly fade in brightness.
So get out and enjoy the view and wave as the potential, but thankfully off-target destroyer of our society cruises by. And don't forget to pour one out for our long-gone dinosaur homies.