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Asteroid set to narrowly miss Earth, may smash satellites

Last Updated: Sunday, May 20, 2012 - 14:44

London: A newly found 150-foot-wide asteroid may pass so close to the Earth that it might destroy communications satellites, researchers say.

Discovered by astronomers at the LaSagra Observatory in Spain, 2012 DA14 is estimated to veer near enough to Earth to potentially disrupt geosynchronous satellites on February 15, 2013, a newspaper reported.

While the asteroid is currently a ‘fuzzy little blob’, as seen through telescopes, 2012 DA14 may eventually come to pass 21,000 miles away from the Earth putting synchronous satellites in the firing line.

Although NASA have asserted that the chance of the asteroid hitting Earth is 0.031 percent, if it did it would strike with the force of a 2.4 megaton explosion, similar to the mysterious Tunguska event of 1908 which levelled hundreds of square miles of Siberian forest.

Presently, the exact orbital path of the asteroid is being determined by NASA and astronomers are erring on the side of caution in case it does come in contact with a satellite.

“That’s very unlikely, but we can’t rule it out,” said Paul Chodas, a planetary astronomer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena California.

“The orbit for 2012 DA14 is currently very Earth-like, which means it will be very close to Earth on a regular basis.”

In the preceding months to February, NASA will attempt to form a fuller picture of where and how close the satellite will get.

“We don’t know exactly where it is, and that uncertainty maps through to an uncertainty in the orbit and predictions,” said Steven Chesley, who also works at JPL.

But for now, no one at NASA is worried that the asteroid will hit but insist that 2012 DA14 might be visible from Earth as it flies past.

“It might be visible to people with good binoculars or a small telescope,” said Chodas.

“For such a small object, that’s really unusual.”

While astronomers analyse their initial estimate of a 0.031 percent chance of 2012 DA14 hitting earth, they cannot rule out the odds of it hitting in 2020 on its next fly-pass.

That is because they will have to see how close 2012 DA14 gets to Earth in February and how much our gravitational pull impacts its course for its next fly by in 2020.

If it does hit, scientist think that its south-bound approach imply that it will hit Antarctica or the Southern Ocean.

The detonation of the 140,000-ton rock would not end civilization but would potentially result in humungous loss of life if it hit a populated centre.


First Published: Sunday, May 20, 2012 - 13:09
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