45 metres long. About the size of a Boeing 757.
130,000 tons. Heavier than a fully loaded Nimitz class carrier.
2.5 Megatonnes of tnt equivalent if it hit. That’s six Polaris missiles worth of bang.
Right now it’s heading our way. 2012DA14 Near Earth Asteroid. It was spotted last year a week after it had sailed by Earth, missing us by a well over a million miles. It’s orbital period of 366 days has brought it right back to us and on Friday 15th February 2013, while people are hurrying home from a hard week at work 2012DA14 will be silently overhead, a mere 21,200 miles away. That’s well within the orbit of the moon and inside the geostationary satellite network.
But it is not going to hit. In fact after the initial scare and some early maths that showed it had a chance of collision after its pass in 2026, it looks pretty unlikely to be ever hitting us in the forseeable future (never say never) with the chance of a collision in 2110 being a staggering 1 in 7,692,308,000. I think i’ll sleep easy for now.
So what is it?
Well it was discovered by the OAM Observatory at La Sagra in Spain on 23rd February last year. It is an Apollo Near-Earth asteroid, which is a type of asteroid that has an orbit that crosses that of Earth’s, more specifically it belongs to a class of asteroid that have a semi-major axis slightly larger than Earth’s.
2012DA14 is also a spectral class L asteroid, a ‘stony’ class of asteroid that are quite rare and appear very red in spectral analysis. In terms of Earth hitting potential stony is better than predominantly metallic, which would have far more mass per volume and make a far larger dent in our little planet.
Can I see it?
If the clouds play ball and your sky is dark and pointing the right way then you can find it in binoculars or a small scope. It will be around Magnitude 7 at it’s brightest so will rank as one of the brightest if not the brightest asteroids to pass near Earth in recorded astronomy. In the UK it will pass over the East-North-East horizon about 19.30 (depending on exact location) and then it will climb though the constellations of Coma Berenicies, Canes Venatici then into Ursa Major about 2100, passing through the ‘handle of the plough’ just after 2130. Below are two excellent maps from the British Astronomical Association’s Asteroid section. (Please do visit their site and see more of the information for yourself!)
For those with Az-ALT mounts these are the co-ordinates (and magnitude) between 20:00 and 00:00
2013-Feb-15 20:00 m 76.5190 5.4035 7.62
2013-Feb-15 21:00 m 59.8424 36.6396 8.62
2013-Feb-15 22:00 m 44.0305 50.8595 9.69
2013-Feb-15 23:00 m 30.1030 56.4436 10.51
2013-Feb-16 00:00 19.3666 58.1381 11.13
For those wishing RA DEC co-ordinates, they are
2013-Feb-15 20:00 m 12 12 26.88 +12 36 06.7 7.62
2013-Feb-15 21:00 m 12 25 10.84 +45 53 18.9 8.62
2013-Feb-15 22:00 m 12 38 55.26 +62 48 41.2 9.69
2013-Feb-15 23:00 m 12 53 50.82 +71 46 52.4 10.51
2013-Feb-16 00:00 13 10 21.29 +77 05 05.6 11.13
Of course contact your local Astro society (list can be found at Active Astronomy) and find out if they are having an observing event on 15th February 2013 and if not get out there and enjoy from your own garden.
Good hunting and remember it’s NOT going to hit!