A near-Earth asteroid – called 2012 DA14 by astronomers – will pass very close to Earth on February 15, 2013.
Astronomers estimate that, when it’s closest to us, the asteroid will be about 21,000 miles (35,000 kilometers) away – much closer than Earth’s moon (about 240,000 miles away) – and closer even than some of our own orbiting satellites.
Astronomers’ calculations of asteroid orbits can be trusted. After all, even decades ago, they knew enough about calculating orbits to send people to the moon and bring them safely back, and today we are able place our space vehicles in orbit around objects as small as asteroids. So, no, 2012 DA14 won’t strike us in 2013. There was a remote possibility it might strike us in 2020, but that possibility has been ruled out also.
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What do we know about asteroid 2012 DA14?
Asteroid 2012 DA14 is a little guy, compared to some asteroids, although its size has not been pinned down precisely. It is thought to be only about 150 feet (46 meters) across.
If a space object 150 feet wide were to strike our planet, it wouldn’t be Earth-destroying. But it has been estimated that it would produce the equivalent of 2.4 megatons of TNT. How does that compare with other known impact events on Earth? In 1908, in a remote part of Russia, an explosion killed reindeer and flattened trees. But no crater was ever found. Scientists now believe a small comet struck Earth. That event has been estimated at 3 to 20 megatons. So 2012 DA14 is in the same approximate realm as the Tunguska comet (which, actually, might have been an asteroid instead). It would not destroy Earth, but it could flatten a city.
What will happen when Asteroid 2012 DA14 passes closely in 2013?
What will happen when it passes us? The short answer is … nothing. On the day it passes, most of us won’t see it or be aware of its passage, in any way. The asteroid won’t alter the tides. It won’t cause volcanoes. It’ll just sweep closely past us – as millions of asteroids have done throughout Earth’s four-and-a-half-billion-year history – some in your own lifetime.