An asteroid about half the size of a football field and shaped like a potato will be passing the Earth with record-setting closeness the day after Valentine’s Day.
The asteroid will pass by at 17,200 miles from Earth at about 2:25 p.m. Feb. 15. It will pass closer than some weather satellites and geosynchronous satellites — which share an orbital period with the Earth — that orbit at about 23,000 miles. The moon is about 240,000 miles away.
NASA uses the Torino Scale to measure the hazard any one asteroid poses, and Asteroid 2012 DA14 measures as white, meaning “no hazard.”
“We know the math of the object and we know the math of the Earth,” said James Albury, director of the Kika Silva Pla Planetarium at Santa Fe College. The asteroid has a great deal of momentum in its orbital path, he said, and “to veer off that path would require a great deal of energy.”
Earth’s gravity will have an effect, though, shortening the asteroid’s orbital path by 51 days.
Asteroid 2012 DA14′s proximity gives scientists an opportunity to research and improve the technology used to track Near Earth Objects. Another object this close isn’t predicted to pass again until asteroid Apophis in 2029.
“They do pose a threat to Earth and of course life on Earth if they should hit us, so it is good to know about ahead of time,” Albury said.
Rachel Jones wrote this story online.