It sounds like a slogan for a sci-fi movie, but there really is an asteroid heading towards earth today. Before you launch into blood-curdling screams and run for the hills, packing up everything you own and taking the family far, far away, you should know that this asteroid has no chance of striking the Earth's surface. None. (exhale slowly) So why should you care? I'd be happy to enlighten you. Roughly the size of a cruise ship(!), Asteroid 2012 DA14, a 45 meter-wide space rock, will zoom safely by. But as far as cosmic distances go, it's gonna be a close one. Some call it a close shave, others a pass by, still others say it will sweep past. Regardless, today it will fly closer than geosynchronous orbit (27,700 kilometers or 17,200 miles or 1/13th the Earth-moon distance). So unless you're a communications satellite, you have nothing to fear. But even if you were a communications satellite, it's unlikely you'd get swatted by the asteroid juggernaut as space is really, really big.
"NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office can accurately predict the asteroid's path with the observations obtained, and it is therefore known that there is no chance that the asteroid might be on a collision course with Earth," asteroid hunters at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., announced on Feb. 1, 2012.
But - and here's the cool part - the rock will come close enough to Earth's gravitational well so its orbit will be dramatically modified. After its near-Earth encounter, asteroid 2012 DA14s orbital period around the sun will be shortened from 368 to 317 days. 51 days less! That's just crazy. I'm not even into this stuff and I think it's fascinating. But wait, there's more.
What will happen when it passes us? The short answer is...nothing. Most of us won't see it or even know that it flew by. The asteroid won't alter the tides. It won't cause volcanoes. It'll just fly by - as millions of asteroids have done throughout Earth's four-and-a-half-billion-year history - some in your own lifetime.
It will, however, be within range for small telescopes and solidly mounted binoculars, used by experienced observers who have access to appropriate stars charts. So if you are one of those people, please invite me over. Please.
What do the experts at NASA have to say?
...the asteroid will travel rapidly from the southern evening sky into the northern morning sky...when it will achieve a magnitude of less than seven, which is somewhat fainter than naked eye visibility. About 4 minutes after its Earth close approach, there is a good chance it will pass into the Earth's shadow for about 18 minutes or so before reappearing from the eclipse. When traveling rapidly into the northern morning sky, 2012 DA14 will quickly fade in brightness.
And if you are curious what else might not hit earth, check out NASA's Near Earth Object Program (I can't make this stuff up!) and find out what's coming to an orbit near you.
Are you going to try and catch a glimpse of Asteroid 2012 DA14?
Image courtesy of : pareeerica