On February 15th, 2013, a huge 150 foot asteroid called ‘2012 DA14’ is due to pass so close to the Earth that it will travel under our man-made orbiting satellites.
A potential collision by the 45m wide lump of space rock with Earth would have a destructive force equivalent to a massive nuclear explosion, and easily capable of demolishing a large city. However, astronomers generally agree that there is next to zero chance of that happening, with Bad Astronomy blog creator Phil Plait adding:
“Seventeen thousand miles is well beneath many of our own orbiting satellites. To the best of my knowledge, this is the closest pass of a decent-sized asteroid ever seen before the actual pass itself. However, let’s again be very clear – it will miss. In astronomical terms, 17,000 miles is pretty close, but in real human terms it’s a clean miss.”
Following next year’s near miss, the next close encounter with ‘2012 DA14’ will be in 2020, and then again in 2057 when the chances of a collision will be a mere 0.022% (or 1 in 4550).
In the meantime, between January 2010 and February 2011 NASA astronomers recorded 20,500 asteroids or comets within 200 million km of the Earth, all with the potential to level a city. Trying to allay any potential concerns by the public, senior astronomer at Sydney Observatory Geoffrey Wyatt further remarked; “It is congested up there but there is also a huge amount of space.”