Close encounter with asteroid to spare Earth

  • Updated: February 7, 2013 - 6:36 PM
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This image shows a simulation of asteroid 2012 DA14 approaching from the south as it passes through the Earth-moon system.

Photo: ., NASA/JPL-Caltech

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An asteroid half the size of a football field will dart near Earth next week, putting on a show for skygazers in Eastern Europe, Asia and Australia.

The 150-foot diameter asteroid, named 2012 DA14, will pass 17,000 miles above Earth on Feb. 15 -- lower than the orbits of some satellites -- in the closest known approach of an object of its size. It will travel on a north-to-south trajectory at 17,400 miles per hour, or about eight times the speed of a rifle shot, NASA scientists said Thursday.

"No Earth impact is possible," said Donald Yeomans, who manages the near-Earth-object (NEO) office at the Pasadena, Calif.-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The NASA unit monitors relatively small space objects such as DA14 to measure the risks they present to the Earth. Researchers said the asteroid's close trajectory will help NASA prepare for an encounter with a near-Earth object later this decade.

While a strike by an asteroid DA14's size would do "a lot of regional destruction," it wouldn't be catastrophic to the planet's population, said Lindley Johnson, program executive for NASA's NEO observations program in Washington. Yeomans said the damage from DA14 if it were to hit would rival an impact event in Russia in 1908 that leveled trees over 820 square miles.

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