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Fair Sized Asteroid Will Pass Close on February 15

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Astronomers at NASA are calling it a “close shave.” Don Yeomans and his associate Paul Chodas, working with the NASA Near Earth Object Program Office on February 1 reported that an asteroid, Asteroid 2012 DA14, will pass within the orbits of some of our geosynchronous satellites but will not impact our planet. Since the asteroid has an orbit that the NASA program describes as similiar to Earths, they have been able to monitor the object, and assure us we are in no danger. Yeomans says Earth’s neighborhood is littered with asteroids of all shapes and sizes, from tiny fragments to mountainous rocks. Some come from the asteroid belt, between Mars and Jupiter; some are all that remains of ancient comets.

2012DA14 is made of stone, not metal or ice. It will be closest on February 15, 2013, at about 2:24 P.M. Eastern Time. The hurling rock is expected to come no closer to our planet than 17,200 miles. While some of our man made satellites are within that range, the majority of satellites and the International Space Station are at a distance of 22,200 miles. The path of 2012DA14 will bring it to about 1/13th of the distance to the moon.

Yeomans says that the impact of a 50 meter asteroid — described by some observers as “gymnasium size,” by others as “half the size of a football field” is “by no means cataclysmic; unless you happen to be under it!” he adds. Astronomers say that in the hypothetical situation of 2012DA14 entering our atmosphere, it would release 2.4 megatons of energy. “Not a world killer”; if it were to strike the ocean, or Antarctica, the impact might even be harmless.

A similar sized object, but made of metal, formed the mile wide “Meteor Crater” in Arizona. That was 50,000 years ago. And in 1908 a rock of about that size exploded over Siberia, where that “Tunguska Event” leveled hundreds of square miles of forest. Amateur ski-watchers will find this coming asteroid hard to see; it will be moving south to north at 17,400 mph.

2012DA14 was discovered by astronomers at the La Sagra Sky Survey program in the South of Spain, who reported it the Minor Planet Center. At that time the passage was 7 times the distance to the moon. They calculated the orbit to be at about 368 days. It passes, they explained, every year. This passage, in 2013 will be the closest yet, giving astronomers at NASA’s Goldstone Radar in the Mojave Desert an opportunity to study the object for factors such as size, spin, and reflectivity. The pass in February will alter the orbital period to about 317 days, and any future close approaches will follow a different pattern. The asteroid will not make another close approach for at least 3 decades.

Yeomans mentions that “The odds of an impact with a satellite are extremely remote; nothing orbits where DA14 will pass.”

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About John Lake

John Lake had a long and successful career in legitimate and musical theater. He moved up into work behind the camera at top motion pictures. He has done a smattering of radio, and television John joined the Blogcritics field of writers owing to a passion for the liberal press, himself speaking out about the political front, and liberal issues. Now the retired Mr. Lake has entered the field of motion picture, television, and video game (now a daily gamer!) critique. His writing is always innovative and immensely readable!
  • Dr Dreadful

    John, a correction. You say:

    “While some of our man made satellites are within that range, the majority of satellites and the International Space Station are at a distance of 22,200 miles.”

    The International Space Station orbits at an altitude of about 260 miles. Most satellites are also in orbits of only a few hundred miles, so 2012DA14 will pass well above them. The only objects in the geostationary orbit at 22,200 miles are communications satellites – about 300 of them, both active and inactive.

  • John Lake

    One of my several sources mentioned that the asteroid would thread the gap between low-Earth orbit, where the ISS and many Earth observation satellites are located, and the higher belt of geosynchronous satellites, which provide weather data and telecommunications.
    I might have investigated further. Thanks for the clarification, Dread!

  • Dr Dreadful

    Your source was correct. You weren’t! :-)

  • John Lake

    Picky picky!

  • http://huttriverofnz.blog.co.uk peter petterson

    I guess that is pretty close in space terms, John.

  • John Lake

    Your latest project,Hutt, is a pay-to-enter environment, but I wish you luck!
    True 22,000 or 260 miles— in space jargon, a drop in the bucket!

  • Igor

    Most orbiting man-made satellites are either about 200 miles from the earths surface, where the earths atmosphere has diminished enough to not retard the satellite, or they are about 22,000 miles altitude where the satellite circles the earth at a speed that makes it appear as fixed in the sky. You can see the advantages of the ‘geosynchronous’ orbit for radio, TV and telephone communications.

    Launch costs are dependent on orbit altitude, so there is a preference for low-orbit launches. But you can’t practically have geosynchronous satellites at low altitude, so TV and telephone relay stations have to be 22,000 miles away which entails an expensive launch.

    That’s why we have two orbital bands.

  • John Lake

    Apparently, at about 09:30 local time, a very big meteor burned up over Chelyabinsk, a city in Russia just east of the Ural mountains, and about 1500 kilometers east of Moscow. The fireball was incredibly bright, rivaling the Sun! There was a pretty big sonic boom from the fireball, which set off car alarms and shattered windows. I’m seeing some reports of many people injured (by shattered glass blown out by the shock wave). I’m also seeing reports that some pieces have fallen to the ground, but again as I write this those are unconfirmed.

    Note: This is almost certainly unrelated to the asteroid 2012 DA14 that will pass on Friday. See above link for details.

  • John Lake

    I’m sure by 10AM we will all know about this. If it isn’t 2012DA14, why didn’t our scientists, even NASA, have any knowledge, provide any warning?
    Video of meteor (from Australian press)

  • John Lake

    Can we believe anything?
    “A fireball that raced over the East Coast on Thursday was not a meteor as originally thought but a Russian rocket burning up in the atmosphere after orbiting the Earth for decades, according to the U.S. military.
    link from CNN

  • John Lake

    #10 is in error, pertains to something from several months ago. Sorry. I’m still curious.

  • Dr Dreadful

    The reason the Chelyabinsk meteor strike most probably has nothing to do with 2012 DA14 is because that object is approaching Earth from the south. Russia is in the northern hemisphere.

    The object was probably only a few feet across, which would have made it difficult to spot in a Solar System trillions of times bigger. It would be like putting John on the International Space Station, then placing a rubber duck at a random point on the surface of one of the Earth’s oceans and asking him to spot it.

  • John Lake

    I considered the trajectory, but figured in the spin of the earth. It was early in the AM and it seemed odd that two meteor incidents would occur on the same day.

  • Dr Dreadful

    Unusual, but coincidences do happen.

  • Dr Dreadful

    And the Earth spins from west to east, not south to north. Simple geometry should have told you there was no way 2012 DA14 nor any fragment of it could hit the northern hemisphere.

  • John Lake

    I had pictured the earth moving in orbit, and considered the tilt of the axis. Without sketching it out, or doing much checking, it seemed it could unexpectedly crash into the northern hemisphere.
    2012DA14 is now being compared in size to a 15 story building. And in Russia, they have 1000 injuries. Maybe it’s a sign…

  • Dr Dreadful

    Axial tilt makes no difference here since 2012 DA14’s approach is described with reference to the plane of the Earth’s rotation, not that of the Solar System.

    Even using your hypothesis, the furthest north the meteor could possibly have impacted would be the Tropic of Cancer, which as you might be aware is some distance from Chelyabinsk…

  • Glen Contrarian

    John –

    And in Russia, they have 1000 injuries. Maybe it’s a sign…

    Hm. Maybe the reason nothing happened in 2012 was because the Mayans didn’t take into account leap years….

  • Dr Dreadful

    Phil Plait over at the Bad Astronomy blog has assembled some of the videos of the meteor that have been uploaded to YouTube from people’s dashboard cams and cellphones.

    The first one looks a bit iffy to me: the date on the video is wrong; the guy keeps driving along, humming to the music on his radio as if nothing unusual is going on; nobody he passes is having any reaction at all either; he just happens to reach the intersection and turn right at the exact perfect time and angle to keep tracking the meteor; and the smoke itself looks like a single train, not a double one as it appears in most of the other videos (indicating that the meteor probably broke into two pieces in the upper atmosphere).

    But they’re all pretty jaw-dropping, especially the ones with the sonic boom.

  • Igor

    @14-DD: any two unrelated incidents that occur about the same time and same location are a coincidence.

    Coincidences occur all the time. They are quite common. If you study Probability Theory, in particular Poisson staistics, you will discover that Poisson predicts that ‘coincidences’ will occur frequently. The problem (for the gambler) is that you can’t predict which coincidences will occur, nor when or where. But you’ll constantly be tantalised by coincidences.

    It’s what keeps suckers coming back to the casino.

    Poisson. Look it up.

  • Glen Contrarian

    fish?

  • http://www.squidoo.com/lensmasters/IanMayfield Dr Dreadful

    Preaching to the choir, Igor…

  • Igor

    Poisson was a great French Mathematician.

    Go to school. Study Probability theory. Learn how unscrupulous people take advantage of you through your utter ignorance of chance. Shake off the bonds of ignorance. Otherwise you will suffer endlessly in a world you don’t understand.

    Same goes for Physics.

    Study. Learn. Understand.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Words of wisdom for us all….