Asteroid Flyby Closest On Record, Says NASA; Near Miss Coming Feb. 15

on February 8, 2013 1:19 PM EST

Asteroid FlyBy
An asteroid passing by Earth next Friday will be the closest miss on record. (Photo: NASA)

An asteroid flyby next week will be the closest on record, says NASA. Asteroid 2012 DA 14 is an object about half the size of a football field in diameter and the asteroid flyby will put it about 17,000 miles from Earth. Although 17,000 miles doesn't sound very close, the asteroid flyby will pass closer to Earth than the satellites that orbit the planet.

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"This asteroid seems to be passing in the sweet spot between the GPS satellites and weather and communications satellites," Don Yeomans, the head of NASA's asteroid-tracking program, told reporters yesterday. "It's extremely unlikely that any of these will be impacted."

The asteroid flyby will bring it between the Earth and the moon, but it will not be visible to the naked eye. Yeomans said the asteroid flyby is a record-breaking celestial event. An object this large only passes this close to the Earth about once every 40 years, and likely only hits the planet once every 1,200 years.

The last time an asteroid this size hit the Earth was in 1908. An object exploded in the sky in Siberia, creating an incident known as the Tunguska event. The impact was so intense (the equivalent of 185 atomic bombs) it leveled eight hundred square miles of forest, uprooting more than 80 million trees.

"Those trees acted as markers, pointing directly away from the blast's epicenter," said Yeomans. "Later, when the team arrived at ground zero, they found the trees there standing upright -- but their limbs and bark had been stripped away. They looked like a forest of telephone poles."

Fortunately, next Friday's asteroid flyby will put it nowhere near a collision course with Earth.

NASA scientists used advanced modeling techniques to map out the path of the asteroid flyby with exact precision, and ground-based telescopes tracked 2012 DA14 since the asteroid's discovery last year by amateur astronomers.

NASA officials also announced that they will be streaming the asteroid flyby live the night of Feb. 15. A telescope at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., will broadcast its view of the event from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., ET (2200 to 200 Feb. 16 GMT).

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