The massive half-a-football-field long asteroid -- designated 2012 DA14 -- making its way toward the Earth will not only set a NASA record for its proximity (for a space object of its size) to the planet when it passes by on Feb. 15 but it will pass within the geosynchronous orbit of quite a few satellites as well. So how many of them will it sweep out of the way or obliterate altogether as it makes a 17,500 mph flyby?
Well, perhaps none at all, say scientists.
"I don't know of any odds for a satellite hit, but it must be a very low probability," Donald Yeomans, overseer of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., wrote Tuesday (Feb. 12) in an email to Discovery News.
He told reporters last week that he didn't anticipate any problems with the asteroid's passing.
"This asteroid seems to be passing in the sweet spot between the GPS satellites (which fly at about 12,600 miles above Earth) and the communication and weather satellites, so it's really extremely unlikely that any of these satellites would be threatened," he said.
Those communication and weather satellites he mentioned? They're in orbit around 22,000 miles up.
So it will most likely miss all satellites and the Earth as well. Scientists, who have been tracking the roughly 150-ft. space rock for a year, have narrowed its closest passage to the Earth to 17,100 miles. That's close, the closest ever for a near-Earth object of that size, but it will likely do no harm.
But that wasn't what scientists thought when it was first discovered in February last year. In fact, they at first thought it was on a collision course with Earth. But closer and more accurate observations of the near-Earth object asteroid allayed their fears.
Just, speaking on an astronomical scale, not by much...
Objects the size of 2012 DA14 hit the Earth on average about once every 1,200 years. It is believed that an asteroid or comet just slightly smaller than the asteroid due on Feb. 15 exploded in the sky over Tunguska, Russia, in 1908. That incident saw an airburst estimated to have the force of 185 Hiroshima atomic bombs. Eight hundred square miles of forest was leveled.
It is also believed that the Barringer Crater in Arizona was made by a meteor about the size of 2012 DA14.