Asteroid 2012 DA14, about 150 feet (45 meters) across, will give the Earth a record setting close shave on Feb. 15, when it passes much closer to the Earth than the Moon and enters the paths of geosynchronous navigation and communication satellites.
However, NASA scientists assure that the asteroid will not hit the Earth.
NASA says its Near-Earth Object Program Office has an accurate projection of the asteroid's path in space, and therefore assures there is no chance that the asteroid will collide with the Earth.
NASA scientists say, however, that the flyby will provide a rare opportunity for researchers to study a near-Earth object. Officials say the close approach will provide astronomers with the opportunity to acquire data that will be used to build a more detailed 3D map of the asteroid, as well as refine estimates of its "shape, spin and reflectivity."
The asteroid will fly by Earth on February 15, and approach within 17,200 miles (27,680 kilometers) of the planet, a hair's breadth encounter on the astronomical scale.
The closest approach, according to NASA, will occur at about 11:24 p.m., PST (2 p.m. EST and 1924 UT) when it would be only about 1/13th of the distance to the Moon.
While its close approach will bring it inside the ring of geosynchronous satellites located about 35,800 kilometers (22,000 miles) above the equator, it will still be above the majority of satellites in orbit, including the International Space Station (ISS). The asteroid will be flying very rapidly at a speed of about 17,400 mph (7.8 kilometers per second) in a south-to-north direction.
Dan Yeomans, who heads the Near-Earth Object Program at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif, said in a statement: "This is a record-setting close approach. Since regular sky surveys began in the 1990s, we've never seen an object this big get so close to Earth." But he said with emphasis: "2012 DA14 will definitely not hit Earth. The orbit of the asteroid is known well enough to rule out an impact." He stressed that the odds it will run into a satellite are also "extremely remote."
"Asteroid 2012 DA14 will pass closest on February 15, 2013.It will pass much closer than the orbit of the moon - closer even that orbiting geosynchronous satellites (22,000 miles). "
Asteroid 2012 DA14 was first discovered last year by an amateur team of astronomers at the La Sagra Sky Survey Observatory in Spain. The discovery was reported to the Minor Planet Center which keeps records of minor bodies in our solar system. It was discovered just as it passed the Earth at a relative distance compared to the present approach, about seven times farther than the Moon is from the Earth.
The asteroid's orbit around the Sun, about 368 days, is similar to the Earth's, bringing it into close approaches to the Earth on an annual basis. This year's approach will be its closest for at least three decades, NASA reports. The encounter will shorten its period to about 317 days, making its future approach follow a different path.
NASA says that although the approach will be very close, it will only appear as a small point of light on the best optical telescopes because of its small size, 45 meters (150 ft across). At a brightness of magnitude 7.5, it will be too faint to be seen with the naked eye, but may be seen with a good set of binoculars or telescope.
But scientists say because it will be travelling very fast (17,400 mph or 7.8 kilometers per second, in a south-to-north direction), tracking it may prove challenging for amateur sky watchers. Yeomans said: "The asteroid will be racing across the sky, moving almost a full degree (or twice the width of a full moon) every minute. That's going to be hard to track."
NASA suggests Indonesia as the best viewing location for sky watchers who wish to take up the challenge. From Indonesia it will be seen to move at a rate of almost 1 degree per minute against the star background. Eastern Europe, Asia and Australia are also good locations from which to observe the asteroid.
Unfortunately, amateur observers on the North American continent may not be able to view the asteroid because by the time the Earth rotates to position, it will have faded to about the 11th magnitude. US Radar astronomers, however, plan to take images of the asteroid using the Goldstone antenna in California’s Mojave Desert, part of NASA’s Deep Space Network.
This passage of 2012 DA14 is a record close approach known for an object its size range. A few other asteroids are known to have passed closer but they were of much smaller size. Yeomans estimated that an asteroid like 2012 DA14, measuring 150 feet (45 meters) across, passes the Earth about once every 40 years but strikes only once every 1,200 years. He said that the impact of such an object would not be catastrophic over a wide area, but it will cause massive destruction in the locality of its impact
According to NASA, asteroid 2012 DA14 is about the size of an object that exploded in the atmosphere above Siberia in 1908. The impact known as the "Tunguska Event," flattened hundreds of square miles of Siberian forest. Another asteroid similar in size to 2012 DA14 hit the Earth 50,000 years ago, creating the Meteor Crater in Arizona.
An asteroid the size of 2012 DA14 could destroy an area the size of Greater London.