In less than 24 hours, a 150 foot-wide asteroid will complete a remarkably close, but safe, flyby. For weeks, scientists have been tracking the path of the small near-Earth asteroid known as 2012 DA14, which is on course to swing by the Earth tomorrow at 11:24 a.m. PT.
Again, no need to panic about a collision with Earth, which would be, in a word, catastrophic. If a space rock of this magnitude crashed into us, scientists say, it would release about 2.5 megatons of energy into the atmosphere. The last time an asteroid this size smacked into the Earth was in 1908 in Tuguska, Siberia. That rock, which actually was a bit smaller than 2012 DA14, took out about 750 square miles of forest near what is now Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia.
Still, the uniqueness of this flyby promises to be a major news event as 2012 DA14 will pass inside the band of weather and communications satellites which orbit the Earth, some 22,200 miles above the planet's surface. At its closest point, the flyby will get as close as 17,150 miles above the Earth and constitute the closest approach for a known object of this size.
In the runup to the big event, here's a cheat sheet to get you prepared:
- NASA will offer a streamed view of the asteroid flyby starting at 9 a.m. PT/12 p.m. ET. Other outfits offering views of the asteroid throughout the day include Israel's Bareket Observatory, the Virtual Telescope Project in Italy, the Clay Center Observatory in Massachusetts, and the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.
- Skywatchers in parts of Europe, Africa, and Asia will have the best chance of seeing the asteroid with a pair of good binoculars or a telescope, weather permitting. U.K. astronomer Geert Barentsen put together a nifty map pinpointing the best times and geographies for viewing the asteroid at its peak.
- At it nearest point, the asteroid will be over the eastern Indian Ocean, off the island of Sumatra.
- 2012 DA14 will linger in the so-called Earth/moon system for roughly 33 hours.
- The asteroid will be traveling at approximately 17,450 miles per hour.
- Astronomers first discovered the asteroid's existence nearly a year ago when researchers at Spain's La Sagra Sky Survey in Mallorca reported their observations.
- Scientists believe there are approximately 500,000 near-Earth asteroids the size of 2012 DA14. Of those, less than 1 percent have been discovered.
- Asteroids this big get close to Earth about once every 40 years.
- Earth gets hit by asteroids this size about once every 1,200 years.