No, asteroid 2012 DA14 will not hit us next year

By Phil Plait | March 4, 2012 11:30 am

For the tl;dr crowd, let’s get this out of the way right away: asteroid 2012 DA14 is almost certainly not going to hit the Earth next February. And by "almost certainly", I mean it: the odds of an impact are so low they are essentially zero. This does not rule out an impact at some future date, but for now we’re safe.


So what’s the story?

A small near-Earth asteroid was discovered in late February by astronomers at the Observatorio Astronómico de La Sagra in Spain, less than two weeks ago. Designated 2012 DA14, it’s estimated to be about 45 meters (150 feet) in diameter, and has an orbit that is similar to Earth’s.



Its orbit is an inclined ellipse, tilted a bit compared to Earth’s orbit around the Sun (the positions of Earth and DA14 are shown for August of 2012 — I picked that randomly to make the orbits clear), and it spends most of its time well away from our planet. However, the path of the rock does bring it somewhat close to the Earth twice per orbit, or about every six months. The last time it passed us was on February 16 – two weeks ago — when it was about 2.5 million km (1.5 million miles) away, equal to about 6 times the distance to the Moon. That’s usually about the scale of these encounters — it misses us by quite a margin.


February 2013: a close shave

Next year, on February 15, 2013, DA14 will actually get pretty close to Earth. It will pass us at a distance of about 27,000 km (17,000 miles) — well beneath many of our own orbiting satellites! To the best of my knowledge, this is the closest pass of a decent-sized asteroid ever seen before the actual pass itself.

However, let’s again be very clear: it will miss. In astronomical terms, 27,000 km is pretty close, but in real human terms it’s a clean miss.

[UPDATE: The rt.com article I linked below has changed substantively since I posted my own article here. They have attributed their quotations more clearly, and have taken out most of the more breathless rhetoric. I applaud them for doing so, though I wish they had been more clear in the first place.]

Unsurprisingly, though very irritatingly, I’ve seen a lot of websites writing about this as if the asteroid will hit. For example, rt.com has a very confused article about DA14 claiming it will somehow both miss us and hit us:

The rock’s closest approach to the planet is scheduled for February 15, 2013, when the distance between the planet and space wanderer will be under 27,000 km (16,700 miles). […] With the asteroid zooming that low, it will be too late to do anything with it besides trying to predict its final destination and the consequences of impact.

Blechh. They write that in a way to make an impact seem likely, but that’s not the case at all! I’ve seen several other websites making similarly contradictory or confused claims (Note:I originally included this SFBay article as an example. It’s not confused, but by using the phrase "potentially fateful day" it struck me as exaggerating the fear). The rt.com article even comes right out and says "NASA confirms… [DA14] has a good chance of colliding with Earth". This is simply not true. I’ll note they don’t actually give a reference to that, so it’s not clear who, if anyone, actually said that, or where they got that information. Either way, it’s wrong.


The fuzzy future

So we’re safe for now. But what about future passes?

That’s harder to say. Predicting where an asteroid will be at some future time depends on a lot of things, including how good the observations are now and how long we’ve been watching it. When we observe an asteroid with a telescope, we can measure its position, but not with perfect accuracy. The Earth’s atmosphere blurs the image a bit, and other factors make it impossible to get an exact measurement. So we observe it many times, over as long a period as possible, to hammer down those uncertainties.

There will always be some small amount of fuzziness to the orbit of an asteroid, though, and the farther ahead in the future you look the bigger that fuzziness gets. For next year, we know the orbit of DA14 well enough to know it’ll miss, but for future orbits it’s harder to say.

As things stand, right now the JPL website lists the next close pass as February 2020, but we don’t know the orbit well enough at this moment to know how close that pass will be*. As things stand, the odds of an impact even then are very, very low (like, 1 in 100,000 — less than your odds of getting hit by lightning in your lifetime). We can’t technically rule it out just yet because, again, the orbit isn’t known well enough to look that far into the future. Of course, astronomers are observing the asteroid right now, and will continue to do so. No doubt we’ll have better orbital information pretty soon.


Keep watching the skies!

So again, because I can’t say this strongly enough: asteroid 2012 DA14 is not an impact threat for February 2013. However, we definitely need to keep our eyes on this guy to see if it poses a threat at some future date. If it does, then you can be sure you’ll be hearing about it from me, and from other websites too. But make sure you find reliable websites. Too many are too ready to breathlessly report this as doomsday when it’s anything but.

So, at least for February 2013, we can safely say:


* I’ll note the European NEO-DyS group uses different mathematical techniques, and they don’t even list that date as a near pass. Instead, they say it’ll be six months later, in September. Again, this shows that given our current observations of DA14, predicting its position that far in the future is very uncertain.


Related Posts:

My asteroid impact talk is now on TED!
Just to be clear: asteroid YU55 is no danger to Earth
Media FAIL *again* (HuffPo and Apophis edition)
Debunking doomsday

Comments (164)

Links to this Post

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  1. I take umbrage at the lumping in of our SFBay article with one that discusses space ship deployment and asteroid painting. Our article includes reference to NASA’s own close approach data, the original observation reports, and a complete explanation of just how far 17,000 miles is from earth. If our article is inaccurate we would be happy to correct anything you point out is incorrectly sourced or referenced.

    http://sfbay.ca/2012/03/04/got-an-asteroid-heading-our-way/

    Additionally, you yourself acknowledge our “very uncertain” abilities to accurately predict the future position of 2012 DA 14. The late discovery and close trajectory of this object make it newsworthy and notable for the scientific community and the general public.

  2. Gary Ansorge

    “The sky is falling, the sky is falling,,,oh, it isn’t?,,,well then,,,never mind,,,”

    We’ve been so successful at dramatizing asteroid impacts that now any rock within spitting distance (meaning, we can actually see the thing) is elevated to an “Earth Destroying,,,destructor thingy,,,”,,,”in theaters soon”.

    I keep looking for asteroids coming in from high above the ecliptic. THOSE could be a BIG surprise,,,

    Way cool explanation, Phil.

    Gary 7

  3. phil

    Typo alert:

    “February 2013: a close shave
    Next year, on February 15, 2012, DA14 will actually get pretty close to Earth.”

    Probably ought to be “2013” on that second mention.

    Also, won’t the 2103 near pass significantly alter the orbit, due to Earth’s gravity? Wouldn’t that make later predictions invalid?

  4. Wouldn’t it be good to put something on it so it is easier to track? Something like an atomic clock with a transmitter like the GPS satellites? Or some retroreflectors? radio and/or laser?

  5. Chew

    Here are the impact effects from the Earth Impact Effects Program.

    If it were to hit us it would hit at 12.75 km/s. Assuming an albedo of .1 it is 55 meters in diameter.

  6. John Paradox

    Not to worry, the crew of the Dark Star will take care of it.

    ;)

    J/P=?

  7. Well, according to the Mayans, we don’t need to worry about anything that may or may not happen after December 21 anyway.

  8. Gary Ansorge

    5. Lugosi

    I like to think of the Mayan calendar as the Mayans version of Y2K. Just a bug in the program,,,

    Gary 7

  9. Jay

    Interesting article, okay, maybe a bit disappointing, but really, I’m glad.

    I have no idea of the math involved, but a 45m asteroid seems to be within the range of size of an asteroid that could be nuked into many itty bitty pieces that would be much safer as they would seem to burn up in the atmosphere releasing their kinetic energy there and not crater the surface.

    I am curious, what does this mean? “… this is the closest pass of a decent-sized asteroid ever seen before the actual pass itself” I couldn’t figure it out.

  10. The Mayans wasn’t referring to any of this end of the world jargon, It’s just the end of there calendar. They predicted great change in the world around 2012. People just like promoting a bunch of religious dogma to draw traffic to websites. But I love this article and this will get repost, to my followers.

  11. Don’t forget about 2011 AG5! That one will definitely kill us all! Well, maybe not, but can’t be too safe if you want to spread panic. That’s what news is about, right?

    ;)

    http://larianlequella.blogspot.com/2012/03/everybody-panic-were-about-to-die-or.html

  12. chief

    Cue the entry music for Bruce Willis…

    Long term predictions are very fuzzy indeed. The closer this body passes to the earth/moon system, the more the established orbit is affected, throwing off future orbits and thus having to recalculate for the next encounter.

    I suspect that this one will be a very long range body as how long this has been orbiting. (I was typing without hitting us yet, but that kinda ends predicting future orbits, doesn’t it).

    I wonder if a spectro of the body has been taken, I would be a good source of metal if we could deorbit it to a parking orbit around our system.

  13. Runi Sørensen

    So I was curious of the effects if the asteroid was to hit earth, as it’s a very small asteroid at ~ 45 meters.

    Even if it WAS to hit earth, the effects would be relatively minor (meaning not a global event). See this simulation where average parameters are used:

    http://impact.ese.ic.ac.uk/cgi-bin/crater.cgi?dist=0.1&distanceUnits=1&diam=45&diameterUnits=1&pdens=2800&pdens_select=0&vel=17&velocityUnits=1&theta=45&wdepth=&wdepthUnits=1&tdens=2500

    It would appear to only be catastrophic if it against the odds hit a city or heavy populated area.

  14. Bill

    @#5 Gary

    Aww, come on, don’t get all serious on us and ruin the fun of bein’ snarky about the Mayan calendar! :P

    I mean, it’s sooo easy to use! lol

    @#3 daealusu2 – Were you being serious? I’m not being snarky, but assuming you were being serious, I think it would take a great deal of effort and planning (read time = years) to put something on an asteroid- I forget the one we’ve done that on but it took over a decade as I recall (Phil, or anyone else have better info?)

    Considering the “payoff” of putting something on the comet (better tracking), I would venture it really isn’t worth it – we can get good enough tracking using telescopes that are already tracking it today.

    Plus we’re looking to find and track many other objects too – just no realistic way to do what you propose on many asteroids.

    That being said, it’s probably possible (with existing satellites and tech) to setup some kind of telemetry system like this. Not being an aerospace engineer, I could be way off (someone please chime in!), but I would expect it would use a transmitter on the asteroid sending a constant signal with radio receivers/radiotelescopes triangulating that signal on earth.

    One question I’d then have is whether the distance between receivers on earth is great enough for accurate tracking.

    This brings an interesting aside – do gravity wells also “bend” radio waves as they do light? In my mind light and radio are the same thing – just different regions on the EM spectrum…(You’d think after over a decade of reading up on Quantum Mechanics I’d already know the answer to this!)

  15. Tom C

    I say we capture it as it passes, getting it to settle in a stable orbit around earth. Then we mine it for anything valuable.

  16. Nero

    It’s going to hit – the distance published is a head fake. Bunkers are being filled by the elite worldwide right now; medicines, food, and water are being stored. This event could plummet this world into a new ice age.

  17. jeff

    the earth’s gravitation will affect the asteroid — it could suck it right toward us, no?!

  18. someguy

    It’s not going to hit us, but isn’t a pass that close an awesome research opportunity? why the frak aren’t we working on getting a bird up there to meet it? Or at least pointing some of our space based telescopes at this bad boy?

    And while the Earth’s gravity well is going to affect the path of the asteroid, it’s nowhere near strong enough to pull the rock in. We have satellites that are moving much slower and flying lower and they don’t get pulled in.

  19. Buzz Parsec

    Another minor nit: The footnote at the end says “they don’t even list that date as a near pass. Instead, they say it’ll be six months later, in September.”

    It is hard to find the asterisk in the main text that the footnote pertains to, at least with my browser using the default font, but it does refer to the Feb 2020 next close pass.

    Someone reading this post might easily miss that and think the footnote is an addendum or late addition, and think it refers to this September or September 2013. This confusion could be easily remedied by adding the year to the footnote, i.e. “Instead, they say it’ll be six months later, in September 2020.”

    Also, BA, you state the odds in Feb 2020 of a hit are 1 in 100,000, with the implication this is actually much greater than the odds in Feb 2013, but you don’t state the 2013 odds… The JPL site only gives odds for the 2020 (and later) passes. The only place I could find the Feb 2013 chances was on the Wikipedia article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_DA14, which says .022%, or about 1 in 4500. This actually seems much too high to me. What are the error bars on the 27,000 km (next February?)

  20. Jesse Garnier (1): I acknowledge your point; the article on SFBay isn’t out-and-out contradictory, but it does use the phrase “potentially fateful day”. Without further modification, that will in my opinion give the casual reader an overstated case for impact. I have amended my post to reflect that.

    As for the last part of your comment, as I say in my article, we can rule out an impact for next year; it’s the impact probabilities past that that are difficult to predict. So I stand by my reasoning.

  21. phil (3): D’oh! Thanks, I fixed that.

    It’s future passes over the next few years that also make it hard to predict the future path of the rock. I fretted over adding something like that in, but decided to keep the explanation simpler.

  22. Buzz Parsec

    @#17 Jeff, yes and no. Of course the Earth’s gravity will affect its orbit. But it won’t suck it into us. The effects of Earth’s gravity are already accounted for in the calculations of DA14’s trajectory.

    Astronomers have understood planetary gravitational effects and have used them to predict the orbits of other objects (and much harder, have used them recursively to predict the mutual interactions where A pulls on B, changing B’s position, while B pulls on A, changing A’s position, all the while A and B are both interacting with C, D and so forth for the Sun, the major planets, the Moon and miscellaneous small objects), with incredible accuracy and precession for over 300 years. Computers make this process an awful lot easier, but there’s nothing new here.

  23. It will pass us at a distance of about 27,000 km (17,000 miles)

    GPS is mostly circular orbits at ~12,600 statute miles above the surface as are polar orbits (weather, ground observation, spy satellites). Geosynchronous is 22,240 miles altitude. That is an uncomfortatable bracket.

  24. virtdave

    How come Mr. Gingrich has not announced a plan to make it the 52nd state yet?

  25. Chris

    @17 Jeff
    Actually gravity can never just suck things in the way you might be thinking of. If I were to go into the outer solar system and randomly fling asteroids around, we would not get hit unless the asteroid’s path directly intercepted the earth. Not counting times earth alters the orbit and we get hit on another orbit. Due to conservation of energy, whenever an asteroid comes in, it will always leave. It will never even enter orbit. Whenever we shoot a probe at Mars/Jupiter/Saturn, we have to fire retrorockets to decelerate allowing it to enter orbit. Theoretically I suppose it could do some energy transfer between the earth and moon to loose energy, but the odds of that are probably only slightly bigger than me quantum mechanically tunneling through a wall.

    Even the gravity of a black hole doesn’t suck things in. They will orbit, only if they hit something and lose energy will they fall in. Not counting gravitational radiation which is negligible for earth mass systems.

  26. Olaf

    To calculate the effect of an incoming object, this is a very good link:
    http://www.purdue.edu/impactearth

    A 45 meter object just explodes around 7 km above the surface. So no huge crater but annoying incoming fragments.

  27. Olaf

    @17

    In order for an object to come as close as 26,000 km, the speed of that object must be below 3.5 km/s for an orbital insertion. To be captured it must move below 4.9 km/s.
    In order to collide with Earth it must move way below 3.5 km/s at it’s closest point.

    So there is no magical sucking of Earth’s gravity on the object. Only it’s speed relative to earth determines if it is going to come down or not. If it moves too fast at that height then Earth’s gravity cannot capture it since it is too fast.

  28. chris

    The RT article does give a NASA name Dr DAVID DUNHAM and it is a potential threat of collision?

    regards

    chris

  29. Bruce of Canuckistan

    Hey Phil,

    Sorry to threadjack, but in the top right corner I noticed an ad for “Tupak”, “visionary/shaman”, with the blurb “I can change your life with my visionary power”.

    Why the @!$# is that in rotation on Discovery blogs?

  30. You are a big downer for doomsayers everywhere! Why can’t they doom in peace? Free speech and free of naysayers with facts! Poor little guys are going to have to give up their cults and survivalist supply stores if you keep popping their bubble.

  31. #14 Bill:
    Of course gravity bends radio waves as it does light. Light and radio waves are the same thing, just with different wavelengths.

  32. Julius

    After only 10 days of following its path I would not be so certain about its trajectory or the chance of impact. There are still many objects that may alter its trajectory in such a way that it will become a 100% impact chance. Just wait it out a couple of months, and hope for un-altered data on its point of impact (or miss) so people can prepare to either watch or flee.

  33. Bill Douglass

    Phil – Can we assume this asteroid is circling in orbit the same direction as earth (in other words, not retrograde?) If so , does this mean it will have a relatively slow closing velocity (compared to retrograde or coming in from a cometary distance?)

    Bill

  34. Mike Sperry

    Couple of questions:
    1) Do we know how long this asteroid has been orbiting the Earth? If it’s been there for millions of years, wouldn’t that also suggest that the orbit is fairly stable, lessening the chances of impact?

    2) When it does zip by next year, will this be a naked-eye object?

  35. Given that it’s only just been discovered, it’s hard to be exact. 17,000 miles *is* a close call, and DA14’s next orbit could diverge over the next year from today’s calculations for a variety of subtle reasons (Yarkovsky effect, radiation pressure, gravitational perturbations, improvements in precision of derived orbital parameters due to additional observations), and that gap between now and next February could easily change by a significant margin. I agree that the chance of impact is low, and is likely to be lower still, but given the inherent uncertainties, it is still a non-zero chance, and, given that there are reasons to believe that the orbital parameters aren’t currently precise enough to make completely accurate predictions a year out, that probability *could* change in the wrong direction. We’ll see.

  36. Chris

    @14 Bill and 28 Neil
    Actually when scientists speak, the entire electromagnetic spectrum is called light, from radio waves all the way to gamma rays. The light we see is called visible light. Actually while radio and visible have different wavelengths, it’s slightly more correct to say they have different energies and frequencies. The light’s wavelength is affected by the medium’s index of refraction. Between radio and visible this isn’t much of an issue, but say blue light goes into a diamond (n=2.5), it’s wavelength would the same as UV light in a vacuum, however its energy and frequency are unchanged. This is a consequence of
    E=hv = hc/(lambda)
    If c gets smaller, lambda has to get smaller.

  37. Adalia

    Im not worried, the Asgard technology SG1 have gathered will save us if it does happen to hit. Infact I wouldnt be surprised if it was going to hit and SGC figured this out and deflected it already! :p LOL!!

  38. Chris

    @29 Mike
    I don’t think it’ll be naked eye visible. The asteroid is ~45 m in diameter and let’s just say for arguments sake it’s half the size of the ISS. The ISS is about 400 km above the surface, and the asteroid will be at 27,000 away. Not sure if this is center or surface of the earth, but let’s just subtract off the earth’s radius (6300 km). So let’s say 20,700 km. The (ratio of these distances)^2 will tell us the intensity change and a factor of 4 for the surface area change. (2680 x 4) times dimmer. In terms of magnitude
    2.512^x = 10712, so x = 10 magnitudes dimmer than the ISS. The brightest the ISS can be is -5.9, so that would give an apparent magnitude of +4.1, which is less than 6, so naked eye visible? Probably not, remember the ISS has shiny solar panels and that’s for the optimum orientation. Asteroid albedo is about 0.1, so dimming it another factor of 10, would have 12.6 magnitudes difference, putting it at about magnitude 6.7. So easy with a telescope, but probably not naked.

  39. Mike Squitieri

    Phil, 2012 DA14 may be our solution to getting back into space! Sure it may be a very, very, super low threat to the Earth, but we could rile up a few politicians into action over it. Just a suggestion of launching rockets into space to blow up a giant rock and saving the Earth will get more funding into the space program.

    Pros:
    1. NASA gets more money into its budget.
    2. We blow up a giant space rock. That’s always neat.

    Cons:
    1. A potential hellfire of the debris from the destroyed rock moving along a new, altered path into us at a future date.

    I think it’s safe to say we need to blow this rock up.

  40. Paul T

    So which is it?

    “asteroid 2012 DA14 will not hit us next year”
    or
    “asteroid 2012 DA14 is almost certainly not going to hit the Earth next February”

    These 2 statements, in the same story have vastly different meanings. One, the first, is an absolute. The second is a probability. And with any probability there is some uncertainty, therefore it is NOT absolute. This is pathetic and scientifically inaccurate reporting. I would expect more from a supposed science magazine.

  41. Paul T

    #14 Bill:
    “Of course gravity bends radio waves as it does light. Light and radio waves are the same thing, just with different wavelengths.”

    They are not the same thing, otherwise all waves would be of the same wavelength. They BEHAVE similarly, yes. But they are not the same.

    “Light waves across the electromagnetic spectrum behave in similar ways. When a light wave encounters an object, they are either transmitted, reflected, absorbed, refracted, polarized, diffracted, or scattered depending on the composition of the object and the wavelength of the light.” ~http://missionscience.nasa.gov/ems/03_behaviors.html

  42. benhur kadil

    As it approaches Earth, will the Earth’s gravity changes its course? But if it’s going to hit our oceans, I’m quite pretty sure it would result to a very high tidal wave.. i hope not in the pacific..

    Some are saying it will certainly miss our planet. Just to avoid panic. We’ll see……

  43. So the Mayans were off by two months?

  44. Robin

    @ Bill (#14): Yes, gravity can also “bend” radio waves. Radio waves and light are the same thing. They only differ in frequency and energy.

  45. hairybuttock

    Does this not strike you as a good candidate for demonstrating the potential of a gravity tug.
    Especially when it gets so close so often, it’s technology we really ought to be developing and testing by now.

  46. Cesar

    It could still hit.

    Not the ground, but an unlucky geosynchronous satellite.

    Did anyone try to make the calculations for the probability of this asteroid hitting an artificial satellite? I would imagine it would be very low (our artificial satellites are quite small, and their orbits are quite big).

  47. Ron

    Very interesting how this comes as NASA is struggling to maintain funding. I don’t really think it’s a conspiracy though, we all know the alien bugs are behind this.

  48. Nicholas Petkovic

    i am very glad that nothing will happen at all. This is causing a lot of panic around the whole world. From one website to another with all the wrong information. This causes a lot of panic. Even with this 21st of December Nothing will happen. NASA already said nothing will happen it is just a big scare to make $$. So don’t worry and enjoy life without this stuff. – Nicholas

  49. E.P. Grondine

    Look on the brightside Phil, this should do wonders for the sales of your new book.

    Anyway Dave Dunham can give the Russians a talk on Comet 73P?

    I suppose that if further observation shows that this piece of “stuff” from space is going to hit DC or New York City, we can all just sit back and relax. On the other hand, if its headed for Malibu, P.Town, Flagstaff, or a someplace really valuable like a cornfield in Iowa, we’ll have to take immediate action.

    Watch out for the folks with the Kool aid and scissors.

  50. Dan I

    So at 45m what kind of damage would it do anyway? It’s obviously not a global extinction threat like Chixalub but it does seem like it would do quite a bit of damage.

  51. For anyone who’s interested in a visual representation, here’s a quick mockup of (approximately) how close DA14 will come to the earth in relation to the diameter of the earth. This is it’s closest point, remember: the apex of the curve, if you will.

    Image Link

    Here’s hoping the link works :)

  52. Grizzly Joe

    This article is premature.
    The JPL diagram has only 8 observations regarding it’s orbital path for that Feb, 2013 date. The certainty of it’s orbit is “5” (pretty much 50/50 at this point). It’s too early to tell if it will collide. A pass under the 22,000 mile Geo-stationary orbital range will definitely be affected by Earth’s gravity … it’s just too soon to tell.
    If it hits, it will have an effect similar to whatever caused the Tunguska Event … that’s big enough to take out a city the size of NYC. If it hit Yellowstone, if would set off the super-volcano. If it hit the San Andreas fault, it could trigger a >9.0 EQ on that fault line, etc., etc. etc..
    Don’t stop sweating just yet. Remember “50/50″ is only a coin toss at this point.

  53. KM

    Phil. What would a hypothetical 45 metre bollide impact be like, accounting for atmospheric burn-up etc.? Are we talking damage the size of a house, block, or suburb?

  54. It’s the ones you don’t see that will get you.

  55. Aaron

    @35 Dan I — The one that made Meteor Crater was probably about that size. On land, it’d be like a several-megaton H-bomb (minus the radioactivity) or a volcanic eruption — effects would be mostly regional, with maybe a small global drop in temperature if it kicked dust into the upper atmosphere. In the ocean, it could cause tsunamis if it hit near a coastline (though I’m not sure how big).

  56. Tim

    What a fantastic space mission it would make to launch and establish an unmanned platform on this asteroid. With a 6 month cycle between “near” times it would be convenient for access, while at other times giving a unique and stable platform for deep space monitoring.

  57. Tim

    What a fantastic space mission it would make to launch and establish an unmanned platform on this asteroid. With a 6 month cycle between “near” times it would be convenient for access, while at other times giving a unique and stable platform for deep space monitoring.

  58. Satan Claws

    Looks like we’ve found the next Apocalypse date. I was worried we wouldn’t have any apocalypses for 2013, since 2012 is already booked.

  59. Nihilgeist

    Oh how I love when you MSM hacks downplay things. You seem to be forgetting that the margin of error for the calculations could put this into hitting earth. Yes, ivory tower scientists have never mis-calculated, right?

    And yes, the odds might be against it, but you only have to win once. And for those that are saying this wouldn’t be a global event, I suppose the Japanese Tsunami wasn’t a “global event”. Yet it was an EVENT that was noteworthy to 15,000+ people, and many more around the globe. So yea, it might not effect you and your pathetic lemming life. Or will it? Perhaps if it landed in your city; or considering the greater chances of an oceanic hit, might hit near your coastline, and you’ll see how much we downplay your city being wiped off the face of the earth. It’ll make for entertaining Television, I’ll give you that.

    At ~150 ft., the size might not impress, but I have yet to hear any talk of the density. I’m sure they know EXACTLY how dense it is because they’re so well equipped to monitor and study these things. Oh wait, they’re not.

    One of these days you doom nay-sayers will be wholeheartedly proven wrong, and it’s going to be a beautiful thing when the defecation hits the ventilation right over your head.

  60. Runi Sørensen

    @ 35 & 37, see my post #13

    It would be a 4 megaton explosion BUT at an altitude higher than 10 km.. A comparable event would be the Tunguska Event, albeit this one would be much less severe. The Tunguska Event was at +10-15 megatons, and the explosion happened at a lower altitude.

  61. Nigel Depledge

    Jay (9) said:

    I have no idea of the math involved, but a 45m asteroid seems to be within the range of size of an asteroid that could be nuked into many itty bitty pieces that would be much safer as they would seem to burn up in the atmosphere releasing their kinetic energy there and not crater the surface.

    Not necessarily a good idea.

    The energy of the impactor has to go somewhere, and it has the same energy whether it comes in as one lump or a million little pieces. If it hits the ground as one lump, it’ll spend a lot of that energy making a crater, melting the rock, throwing dirt up into the air, etc. If it comes in as little pieces and all burns up in the atmosphere, it will spend all of its energy on heating the atmosphere. Depending on the exact impact energy, this is probably not a good thing.

  62. Yur Dayed

    OK, thanks for the reassurance.

    STILL, the fact remains that asteroids have hit every major body in the solar system a myriad of times. The fact remains that in the miniscule amount of time since we’ve been able to detect these objects, and in the short decades we’ve had Hubble, we’ve already seen so many that it only confirms that these collisions are a true threat.

    The Shoemaker Levy collision with Jupiter would’ve wiped this planet clean, and yet we somehow managed to witness this supposedly super-rare event.

    Fact is that the human race has been lucky, and is squandering that luck by underfunding its space programs and going back to juvenile warring and moronic politics surrounding taxes when we should be pooling resources to build massive particle weapons to gently, but controllably nudge threatening objects away. Plus some objects may not be able to be nudged this way,
    and will require a more direct violent approach.

    People can keep mocking this threat, but it is quite real, and more of these buggers are going to show without always giving advanced warning so we better start doing the thing humans are lousy at – which is preparing.

  63. Nigel Depledge

    Runi Sørensen (13) said:

    It would appear to only be catastrophic if it against the odds hit a city or heavy populated area.

    Or if it hits the ocean, where it could cause a tsunami. 70% of the Earth’s surface is ocean . . .

  64. DLC

    Okay, so you’re off by 27,000 miles, and the Mayans were off by a year and 2 months . . .
    And I have this bridge I want to talk to you about. it crosses the river to my beachfront swampland.

  65. @38. Phillip Helbig

    tl;dr???

    Internet slang. Too Long; Didn’t Read. Basically what industry/military calls a BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front).
    So in case someone doesn’t read the whole explanation, they still know that nothing is about to destroy civilization February 2013. :)

  66. Chris

    @44 Larian
    I propose a new acronym
    tl;dg
    Too Lazy; Didn’t Google. When simple 5 second search would have answered the question, but the person asks it anyway.

    Ah, a simple search revealed someone else already thought of that. Darn.

  67. Kilroy

    Tom C .. You want to **Mine** an Asteroid 45 metres across? Think how many railcars that will take. Nearly a Thousand. That’s a whole two trainloads.
    And Seventeen thousand miles is an awful lot of railtrack.

    Just let it hit. Btw, has anyone calculated the velocity of impact. Depending on this, the actual size, and closeness of water, we could have Crater Water park opening up soon. Or if we get the angle right, a Brand New Panama Canal.

    Oh Rats, It’s gonna miss. Maybe Next time.

  68. Ben

    I think your boastfulness is incredibly arrogant, most scientist aren’t so certain of themselves with so many variable in the solar system, especially during a Solar Max with very present CME’s constantly being hurled into space. It is close enough that many things can slightly alter it’s trajectory over the next 11 months, even a little.

    Time will tell, and yes, this needs to be watched, but to boast that it will not hit the earth and that you know best is just plain arrogant showboating, and the Universe has a tendency to make people like that wrong.

    This may come as a good wake up call, 60 meters is a very manigable sized rock that can easily be diverted or destroyed in space, we should learn from this instead of being arrogant about right or wrong.

  69. Neocon

    Let’s bomb some freedom and democracy into it.

  70. Andy

    Lets not forget that there ARE other factors that may affect DA14’s orbit…. What about a large CME? Solar winds are known to have an effect on asteroids. Not trying to be chicken little here, but the JPL’s omission of impact probabilities for 2013 do raise eyebrows amongst the conspiracyniks…
    just sayin’

  71. noone

    Why 2013-02-15 is not listed in the NASA’s page about “2012-DA14″?
    http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/risk/2012da14.html

    The next close encounter listed there is 2020-02-16, where the impact propability is much lower (1.3e-05) than in 2013-02-15, when it is 2.2e-04 and so in 1:4550? (or is that 1:4550 cululative propability of the values in the list where 2013-02-15 is missing)

    Then again here, the date of the close encounter IS mentioned:
    http://ssd.jpl.nasa.gov/sbdb.cgi?sstr=2012%20DA14;orb=1;cov=0;log=0;cad=1#cad

    So, what is really the propability of the impact on 2013-02-15 currently?

  72. OneofNone

    However, let’s again be very clear: it will miss. In astronomical terms, 27,000 km is pretty close, but in real human terms it’s a clean miss.

    Still it’s not given where the distance is measured from: surface or center of the earth. However to becalm people one should use different words. Instead of “hair’s breadth” one can use a more understandable picture.

    Use a normal disc with rings and crosshairs on it. Assuming the 27000 are from the center of the earth, the “hit” will be about 2 complete diameters away from the outer rim. In contrast “below many satellites” sounds like “better duck”.
    The ISS is safe, because that distance is not half a ring of the target disc.

  73. OneofNone

    @46. Kilroy said:

    Just let it hit.

    That’s not a good idea if you are interested in mining. Read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meteor_Crater#Daniel_Barringer

  74. Sal

    Thanks for this. I got suspicious when I saw that the story was being repeated on anything other than “official” websites, and the “NASA scientist” did not have any connection to NASA now or in the past. Don’t know where that idiocy got started.

  75. Runi Sørensen

    @42 “Or if it hits the ocean, where it could cause a tsunami. 70% of the Earth’s surface is ocean . . .”

    I did consider that possibility, and ran the simulation (on the website I linked) with the asteroid exploding above the ocean. It seems that the tsunami generated would be relatively small, for example 30 km from the impact, the ” Tsunami wave amplitude is less than 1.6 meters ( = 7.0 feet).”

    You can check for yourself here: http://impact.ese.ic.ac.uk/cgi-bin/crater.cgi?dist=30&distanceUnits=1&diam=45&diameterUnits=1&pdens=2800&pdens_select=0&vel=12.72&velocityUnits=1&theta=45&tdens=1000&wdepth=3790&wdepthUnits=1

    Actually, I just looked the asteroid up here: http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/risk/2012da14.html#summary

    The velocity at atmospheric entry is much smaller than the average 17 km/s for an asteroid, at 12.72 km/s, this change everything. We are now looking at a 2.22 megaton event instead of 4 megaton, that makes a big difference.

  76. Daniel J. Andrews

    Timely. I’ve had three people ask me in the last few days about this. I found the near earth orbiting website, but this post is more reader friendly and I can point them here (hi steve!).

  77. Warren

    All these models are see are perfect elipses with the sun as the focal point. The image included here show’s zero affect on the trajectory of the asteroid from the Earth’s gravity. If it were going to hit, this is exactly the news we should expect… panic will accomplish nothing. So I figure, can’t know who to trust until 2/16/13.

  78. OneofNone

    @49. Cesar

    It could still hit.

    Not the ground, but an unlucky geosynchronous satellite.

    Only an defective one.

    Before February 2013 we’ll have a very precise idea where DA14 will pass. So we can check which satellite (if any) will be in danger. Then we have much time to move that satellite quite a bit.
    Remember, 100m in the correct direction will be enough. There is no effect from turbulence by a passing object, just avoid getting hit is good.

  79. Binary_Digit

    Not a rhetorical question: Why isn’t the 2013 pass listed on the JPL website?

    http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/risk/2012da14.html

    Anyone with insights?

  80. Mike Saunders

    RT is a sensationalist rag, if we spent our time disproving weekly world news outlets we wouldn’t have any free time!

  81. ND

    Ben,

    Destroying an asteroid will only generate more pieces to rain down on earth. They’ll be smaller but they could be hitting over a larger area.

    How did you plan on destroying a 60m diameter asteroid?

  82. Kari F.

    I read the RT story yesterday and was astounded at how unprofessional it was. I figured if it was important, I’d see it in Bad Astronomy. And here you are. Capital job, old chum!

  83. Gary Ansorge

    76. Ben

    “boastfulness is incredibly arrogant”

    Do you even know the difference between self confidence (which is based upon knowledge and experience) and arrogance? WE have self confidence, because the equations we use(run on computers. No one does these by hand, anymore) are tried and true,,,hey, they work to put a probe in orbit of Pluto.

    More data(from observations over time) mean greater accuracy but all that will do is let us know which sats might have to move,,,or if its orbit might have been perturbed,,,but a 45 meter rock is not all that dangerous,,,unless it lands in someones back yard. If it’s nickel/iron, that could be a problem. If it’s a carbonaceous chrondite (soft, mushy and likely to break up) it would never make it to the surface. Fine for high altitude pyrotechnics and popcorn sales though,,,

    Gary 7

  84. Liath

    Just for the sake of curiosity: Once there has been enough data collected to get a good idea of the asterioid’s orbit will we be able to backtrack to find out how close it has passed in the past? It would be nice to know if I should have been scared sometime long ago.

  85. Sandy Wyatt

    What do we not know that could affect this asteroid’s orbit? I wouldn’t place a lot of confidence is statements that say what will happen. The assumptions that go into the calculations will not account for many things that could happen before each crossing of Earth’s and this rock’s trajectories. DA14 is small and can be shifted by small forces. If it ever hit earth, just where would that be? If in the middle of a continent, it’s another Tunguska, but suppose it hit in the middle of the North Atlantic? Could the resulting tsunamis wipe out populations on many coastlines? While I don’t usually like the idea of blowing up incoming space objects (it seems so crude and uncontrolled) it does seem like this would be a good opportunity to do something just to test our capabilities. It’s small and close enough to paint it white, which would gradually push it away from Earth’s orbit, so I propose a mission to do just that.

  86. Chew

    @83 Runi “It seems that the tsunami generated would be relatively small, for example 30 km from the impact, the ” Tsunami wave amplitude is less than 1.6 meters ( = 7.0 feet).””

    That’s the height of the wave for the depth of the ocean you selected. As a tsunami shoals the wave height will increase by a hefty factor Tsunami Facts and Information

  87. Brutus

    To Lugosi, Terelle and some others: The Mayan Long Count (MLC) Calendar does not end on December 21, 2012, despite all the hoop-lah and nonsense to the contrary! The MLC calendar is mostly an accumulative series of 20 times the previous cycle length with each complete cycle given a name. It’s quite similar to the tiny wheels and cogs within a watch. Also I won’t bore you with all the Mayan names unless requested to do so. One unique cycle, the second one in the series, has only 18 counts. All the others are 20 times the previous cycle in length. From the beginning, the complete sequence consists of the first cycle of 20 days which corresponds to a Mayan month. The second cycle is their year which is composed of 18 months or 18 times 20 days, i.e., 360 days. The next or third cycle is 20 times 360 days or 7200 days, roughly 19.7 of our years. The next or fourth cycle is 20 times that or roughly 394 years in length. Every approximately 394 years the Mayan LC calendar date reads 19.19.17.20. There are several more cycles numbers to the left in the complete Mayan LC calendar. However the only one that is of any importance to us is the next one, i.e., the fifth cycle called the “pictun” cycle. It has a length of about 7885 years (20 times 394.24 years). We are only in the late stages of the 12th count of that fifth cycle. On December 21, 2012, the five cycle Mayan LC calendar date rolls over from 12.19.19.17.20 to 13.0.0.0.0. Perhaps the Mayans did foretell some kind of great change for that particular date, even though the Pictun cycle doesn’t end for another seven completions of the previous four cycles or roughly another 2560 years! It is thought by many Mayan archeologists that the MLC calendar might possibly predict a kind of “apocalypse” for that much later time in 4572 CE. However, it still may not be the type that is envisioned by many western style doomsayers. It could simply be a type of spiritual rebirth. Unfortunately for the Mayan culture, unforeseen droughts and other social calamities occurred in the period between 800 CE to about 950 CE, and then later on, after the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors in the mid 15oos CE. Interestingly, the Mayan LC dates 10.0.0.0.0, 11.0.0.0.0, and 12.0.0.0.0 correspond to our Gregorian calendar dates of March 13 830 CE, June 15 1224 CE, and September 18 1618 CE respectively. It might be worthwhile for someone, who is very knowledgeable about detailed Mayan history, to determine if anything significant happened on or near those three dates. I’m not suggesting that every 394 years or so, certain awful things happened to the Mayans, but who knows? I may well be placing too much fate upon those mysterious wheels of time with the Mayan Long Count calendar.

  88. Jay

    @69. Nigel Depledge

    Thanks Nigel for your answer.

    I think I would prefer heating up the atmosphere to rubbing out a city. But while I take your concern at heating up the atmosphere, isn’t the energy of a hydrogen bomb much less than the energy released in a hurricane?

    Castle Bravo = 63,000 TJ = 64×10^15 J. — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_weapon_yield

    Hurricane = 5.2 x 10^19 Joules/day — http://www.aoml.noaa.gov/hrd/tcfaq/D7.html

  89. Live2RideFast

    OK, I know very little of such things … that said, what if it is magnetic? Beyond the additional and perhaps unexpected attraction toward us, doesn’t a near miss turn all the electronics to junk by EM pulse?

  90. I enjoyed your reporting on this news event. I was just watching the evening news with Brian Williams and hit my computer to find more information about these celestial conditions.

    Thanks for stressing that people should be checking up on reliable reports. I appreciated your realistic scientific explanations and they bring much more comfort I would think to the general public than other reporting that may cause fear.

    Scientifically, what can people expect and what can they do if such an event should occur? Are we SOL?
    This kind of preparation information would be a great post to help populations if such an event should happen.

    I am 51 years old and don’t remember the news broadcasts in so very long a time discussing asteroids hitting earth!

    http://cindyeksuzian.wordpress.com/2011/09/01/god–he-speaks-to-us-in-clouds/
    http://thebookwalkingonhisfootstool.wordpress.com/photography/

  91. datora

    Folks, you want an idea of scale IF something like this were to hit? Google search string: “barringer meteor crater arizona” and get a little educated. The Tunguska event is a very poor model to compare against … other than as an example of something perhaps one-tenth (or less) as potentially destructive.

    2012-DA14 is smaller (~10% or maybe more) and (probably) moving slower. Although, the stated velocity of ~12.7 KM/sec doesn’t indicate it’s relative velocity to the surface of the Earth. Earth is cruising along in orbit at ~30 KM/sec … so what fraction of that might be added or subtracted …?

    We DO NOT KNOW its composition, but being an asteroid it is either rocky (less dense, lower mass) or iron-nickle, making it similar to the Barringer event. Therefore, making statements about it’s tonnage are quite premature. Comments describing this as a “comet” are ill-informed. While remotely possible, it’s very unlikely.

    If stoney, it stands a fair chance of exploding in the atmosphere on the way in. And, it would be vastly preferably that an incoming object such as this burns up as much as possible in the atmosphere. Vastly preferably. Completely asinine statement about the “danger” of heating the atmosphere … the more of it that would burn up on entry the better.

    If an iron-nickle monolith, then there is an uncomfortably high probability of making a little-sister sized crater to the Barringer Crater. If that happens in the ocean, rest assured that the tsunami generated would be very noticeable. If it hit in deep water (say, 700 or 1000 meters) off the continental shelf it would erase large tracts of coastline for quite some distance.

    Fortunately, it looks like excellent odds that it will miss. Might be a good day to spend playing the lottery. And thinking very carefully about funding projects to find, map and alter the course of near earth objects. Take some action and inform your politicians in ALL countries to take this seriously. This one is quite the dress rehearsal for “Oh crud … it’s too late already.”

  92. Any chance of taking advantage of that close pass and testing out some asteroid deflection strategies? Maybe zap it with a laser, or put a satellite in its way?

  93. Sandy Wyatt

    Assume this asteroid came from the asteroid belt. Then it is almost certain to be hard and dense, because in order to get into an earth-similar orbit, it had to be torqued pretty hard or bounced off some other object. A soft or composite object would have been broken up, and the likelihood that it has been reassembled from small pieces is nil. I’d suggest it would not be easily destroyed by nukes or heating from the atmosphere in the few seconds it spends there. If it was a static target that could actually be bombarded by bombs, there might be a decent chance it could be busted up – but a relatively small target like this moving at that speed is going to be very difficult to hit directly, and the timing of an impact detonation is an extremely delicate proposition. A nearby detonation in space likely would have little effect – it might melt the outside temporarily but would probably not move it much, since the mass of the bomb is not large enough to impart much momentum to the asteroid. Just paint it white – let the sun push it away into a higher, safer orbit. I haven’t done any calculations, of course, but those are my initial thoughts on the matter.

  94. Messier Tidy Upper

    @11. LarianLeQuella :

    Don’t forget about 2011 AG5! That one will definitely kill us all! Well, maybe not, but can’t be too safe if you want to spread panic. That’s what news is about, right?

    Hah! That’s the one I first thought the BA was referring to here after seeing via Greg Laden’s blog a few days ago. Asteropids never rain but they pour! ;-)

    BTW. Good article on that at your linked blog thanks . :-)

    @93. Gary Ansorge :

    WE have self confidence, because the equations we use(run on computers. No one does these by hand, anymore) are tried and true,,,hey, they work to put a probe in orbit of Pluto.

    [Pedant] They *would* enable us to put a spaceprobe into orbit around Pluto – but, alas, we haven’t done that yet and far as I’m aware aren’t yet planning such a mision. New Horizons will visit Pluto in 2015 but only as a breif fly-by encounter. [/pedant.]

    @101. Live2RideFast :

    OK, I know very little of such things … that said, what if it is magnetic? Beyond the additional and perhaps unexpected attraction toward us, doesn’t a near miss turn all the electronics to junk by EM pulse?

    No.

    Being magnetic doesn’t necessaily mean causingan elctromagnetic pulse and if the rock in question was magnetic it’s magnetic field would, I would expect, be far too small to have any effect.

    Note that planets with magnetic fields – even magnetic fields as huge as Jupiter’s – do NOT thereby get pulled out of their orbits by attractions to other magnetic field boasting planets. IOW, their magnetism doesn’t overcome gravity!

    We can make reasonable guesses about the composition of asteroid 2012 DA14 – it is likely silicate rock or carbonacous chondrite but possibly iron and for it tohave teh sort of huge magnetic field you’re speculatinmg about there it’d have to be something like a fragmentof neutron star – which would be detectable by other major effects such as gravity – a chunk of neutron that big (relatively – a whole neutron star is only the size of a city but has from oneand a half to three suns worth of mass jammed into it!) would already have made its presence known long before.

  95. Messier Tidy Upper

    Correction for clarity :

    For asteroid 2012 DA 14 to have the sort of huge magnetic field you’re speculating about there it’d have to be something like a fragment of neutron star – which would be detectable by other major effects such as gravity. A chunk of neutron star that big would already have made its presence known long before.

    Note that a whole neutron star is only the size of a city but has from one and a half to three suns worth of mass crammed into it! Therefore an asteroid-sized mass of neutron star would almost certainly contain more mass than our whole planet! We’d notice if something like that was orbiting anywhere in our inner solar system.

    Note that planets with magnetic fields – even magnetic fields as huge as Jupiter’s – do NOT thereby get pulled out of their orbits by magnetic attractions to other magnetic field boasting planets. IOW, their magnetism doesn’t overcome gravity or alter their orbits.

    Consider this quote :

    Jupiter’s magnetosphere, the wasp-shaped zone within which its magnetic field takes precedence over the charged particles constituting the solar wind, extends more than seven million miles ahead of the planet in the direction of its orbital motion, where it stacks up against the solar wind at what is called the magnetopause, and trails so far behind that it sometimes impinges upon Saturn. Were it visible to the eye, it would loom four times the size of the full Moon in our skies here on Earth. Auroras larger than the surface of Earth dance near Jupiter’s poles, where its magnetic field lines converge.”
    – P. 186, Ferris, ‘Seeing in the Dark’, Simon & Schuster, 2002.

    To put in perspective the size of Jupiter’s magnetosphere (Planetary magentic field) the largest object in our solar system except for our Sun. Yet note that it doesn’t cause Jupiter to shift its orbit, or say collide with Saturn.

    Hope that helps. :-)

  96. kinggzz

    “the smarter we think we are, the dumberer we become”. “if there’s a way to screw it up, man will find a way”. possibility#1 giant solar flare hits asteroid, changing its “known” course. possibility #2 some “smart” humans decide to Nuke the thing and the Nuke malfunctions and detonates before hitting the target. the resulting shockwave hits the asteroid and changes its course causing it to hit earths Atlantic ocean. the resulting tsunami destroys many coastal cities world wide. stranger things have happened, tornadoes in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, said to b impossible until march 2nd 2012.

  97. ibsteve2u

    It’s not going to hit? Bummer…I was hoping maybe a 4,000 (or so) carat carbon allotrope from Andromeda would crash into my backyard.

  98. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ ibsteve2u : Hmm.. from Andromeda as in the galaxy? I think that’s ju-uust a little too far away to be a likely source – even the constellation is given its member stars are all tens of light-years away at closest – don’t know of any nearby star from that constellation.

    @106 & 107 :

    For it to have the sort of huge magnetic field you’re speculating about there it’d have to be something like a fragment of neutron star.

    Or white dwarf star or red / brown dwarf degnerate matter – but the same applies for that too as far as consequent mass & gravity goes.

    If asteroid 2012 DA was made of something exotic like that we’d be able to discern that from its spectrum as well.

  99. Kiljoy616

    Oh that not fair, I was so hoping for going out in a big ban. I guess I will just have to deal with a long life and uneventful death if I am lucky. :-)

  100. Rocco Tool

    How can it be harder to predict where it will be in the future? We plan planetary (Cassini, Mars probes) and interplanetary (Voyager) missions all the time, and they take years to complete. If we already know the yearly orbit of this thing, how is it so hard to figure out the future orbits? Do we not predict the orbits of comets ever since Halley? If you can’t do it or find out, give us a journalist who can, please.

  101. Blaren

    “I mean it: the odds of an impact are so low they are essentially zero.”

    Oh… That means the probability of an impact is so high that it is essentially one! ;)

  102. Nigel Depledge

    Ben (76) said:

    Time will tell, and yes, this needs to be watched, but to boast that it will not hit the earth and that you know best is just plain arrogant showboating, and the Universe has a tendency to make people like that wrong.

    This is just bilge.

    It is not arrogance to know for a certainty that this rock won’t hit Earth next February. It is maths. It has been proven to work.

    What is arrogance is to claim knowledge where none exists, which is exactly what you are doing.

  103. Nigel Depledge

    Runi Sørensen (83) said:

    I did consider that possibility, and ran the simulation (on the website I linked) with the asteroid exploding above the ocean. It seems that the tsunami generated would be relatively small, for example 30 km from the impact, the ” Tsunami wave amplitude is less than 1.6 meters ( = 7.0 feet).”

    That’s all well and good if it explodes in the atmosphere, but surely that depends on the object’s composition as much as its size, and we don’t know its composition. Is it, or not really?

  104. Nigel Depledge

    Gary Ansorge (93) said:

    hey, they work to put a probe in orbit of Pluto.

    While we could put a probe in orbit around Pluto, New Horizons does not carry enough fuel to decelerate into orbit. Instead it will pass close by Pluto and then move deeper into the Kuiper Belt.

  105. Nigel Depledge

    Jay (99) said:

    I think I would prefer heating up the atmosphere to rubbing out a city. But while I take your concern at heating up the atmosphere, isn’t the energy of a hydrogen bomb much less than the energy released in a hurricane?

    Castle Bravo = 63,000 TJ = 64×10^15 J. — [url omitted]
    Hurricane = 5.2 x 10^19 Joules/day — [url omitted]

    True. But I don’t think these are directly comparable because one releases its energy in a very short time, while the other takes an entire day.

    Assuming the asteroid to be spherical and to have a diameter of 50 metres and a density 3.5 times that of water and a velocity relative to Earth of 13 km/s, it will enter the atmosphere with roughly 1.9 x 10^16 J, which is indeed comparable to a nuclear device in terms of energy.

    Note, however, that I did qualify my original answer with “depending on its size”. I had not done the sums at that point, but as the impactor gets larger you get less and less benefit from it burning up or hitting the ocean, and more (relative) benefit from it hitting land.

  106. Nigel Depledge

    Datora (103) said:

    Completely asinine statement about the “danger” of heating the atmosphere … the more of it that would burn up on entry the better.

    It’s not asinine.

    As I said, depending on the size of the impactor, it can present a hazard. For this partisulr rock, making various assumptions it does not seem to present this particular hazard. For a substantially larger rock, we’re much better off – in global terms – if it hits land than if it burns up as many small fragments in the atmosphere over a wide area.

    Although I don’t have my copy to hand at work, I got this stuff from a book about this kind of thing from some astronomer guy (named Dish or something . . .).

  107. If it is going to come between earth and our satellites, what are the chances that we could lose satellites? I haven’t been able to find any articles concerning the threat to satellites which could have some serious implications.

  108. beer case

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2107654/Nasa-identifies-new-asteroid-threat-hit-Earth-2040–UN-begun-discussing-divert-it.html

    Any thoughts on this one? According to Daily Mail it “could potentially impact on February 5th 2040″. Nice pictures from the movie Armageddon and everything. ;)

  109. Chew

    @103 datora said, “Although, the stated velocity of ~12.7 KM/sec doesn’t indicate it’s relative velocity to the surface of the Earth. Earth is cruising along in orbit at ~30 KM/sec … so what fraction of that might be added or subtracted …?”

    12.72 km/s is the velocity if it were to hit the Earth next year. 2012 DA14 and Earth have similar orbits, the major difference is in inclination, so their relative velocities are rather low. Its relative velocity when passing Earth’s orbit is 6.14 km/s. Calculating impact velocity is rather straight forward if you know the relative velocity: impact velocity² = relative velocity² + Earth’s escape velocity at atmosphere entry² (11.14 km/s)

  110. Live2RideFast

    @107 …
    As it occurs to me, we aren’t talking about a planetary magnetic-field pulling another planet closer or a super-asteroid pulling a planet to intercept. On a 17,000 mile near-miss, the tale could, at least, be told weeks ahead by judging if the track of the asteroid was curving more than predicted by gravity. As a likely impractical test: couldn’t a rocket warhead full of iron filings be detonated in its path to judge the effect of the asteroid on the expanding cloud of particles?

    @106 … As I think of it, the EM pulsing as a magnetic asteroid hurtles through lines of attraction within the earth’s magnetic field would be more than negligible. The posit follows a “thought experiment” that a changing frequency from a buzzing radio interference morphs into something of higher frequency and amplitude as the asteroid encounters stronger magnetic lines closer together on the near approach. The wave additions and harmonics create a soup of interference. I think of it like the example of firing a supersonic projectile down a long, straight tree-lined driveway and listening as a sonic boom reports each tree along the way.

    We don’t have data, as far as I know, from a time of a magnetic meteor approach through the earth’s field to judge the effect on sensitive electronics or EM pulsing generally. Such may be beyond our experience and harken back to folklore of such events as comets being harbingers of evil tidings, or some such.

    Thank you for your considerations.

  111. Kevin

    Any word on whether will we be able to see it without a telescope at that distance?

  112. goscott

    Then, a Mighty Angel picked up a boulder shaped like a huge Mill Stone, and threw it into the

    Atlantic Ocean,

    and cried mightily with a loud voice saying!!

    Just as I have thrown away this stone, the great city of Babylon will be thrown down with violence , and shall never be found again!!!

    The Book Of Revelation, Chapter 18 verse 21

  113. Nic

    The Eros Asteroid is another near earth asteroid whose orbit brings it close to earth around January-February each year. What are the odds of the asteroids paths coming close at any time in 2013? I wonder if anyone has researched this.

  114. Chew

    NEODyS gives an apparent magnitude of 7.1 at its brightest, so no. You’ll need binoculars to see it.

  115. Chew

    @127
    1. Eros never crosses Earth orbit so it will never hit us. The closest it gets to the Earth is about 20 million km.
    2. Eros has a period of 1.76 years which means its close approaches would occur every 2.32 years, which means its close approaches will not be every Jan-Feb because 2.32 years is not an integer year.
    3. Of course many people have researched it. Check JPL’s page about Eros: JPL Small-Body Database Browser Scroll to the bottom and click on “show close-approach data”.

  116. Astrophel

    Considering the remote possibility that this object might hit in our lifetimes, my first thoughts were “what’s this asteroid made of?” and “what is the relative velocity it would hit the Earth?” i.e. the energy impacted. 45 meters can be a lot of iron, or less rock. It hasn’t hit yet, so it might be a benign companion (in stable orbital relationship).

    But if it hit, what would be the consequences? A tsunami might be the best bet, since most of Earth’s surface is covered by water (we should rename the planet). When you take the relatively low relative velocity of the object, it would be a big splash, but not a huge one like a comet impact. If it hit a populated area on land, the devastation would probably be greater. Not the end of the world, but still enough to warrant a close eye on the asteroid.

  117. Marco

    However if the predictions are slightly off enough or something alters its course such as a small asteroid then there is some possiblity of collision. Also the EARTH’S moon is roughly 230000 miles so this asteroid would pass cleanly through both making it to become unstable to gravitational reflex and probably colliding with a few satelites

  118. What I want to know is, if this asteroid was only discovered two weeks ago how do they know what the orbit is? What about the Hubel telescope to get a clearer view at this asteroid?

  119. realta fuar

    @69 and others: you ALWAYS get some benefit by getting hit with lots of small pieces rather than one large asteroid: a) the atmosphere has a huge heat capacity b) the small pieces give up their kinetic energy MUCH higher in the atmosphere than do big chunks of rock and metal. Would you rather have a several megaton bomb go off a kilometer away or on your head, or have several kiloton blasts spread out over a huge (hemisphere sized) area and maybe 15 to 30 miles up? It’s really a no-brainer. The B.A. made this same embarrassing argument at a national astronomy meeting several years ago. It’s worse though, blow it up a few weeks (or for something this small, maybe even a few days) before impact, and you have to impart very little deltav to the fragments to insure that very few, if any, end up as impactors. For a really big impactor, as in the dinosaur killer, enough energy is imparted to the atmosphere from infalling global debris from the crater, that you get a double whammy: global firestorms from the debris par-boiling a large fraction of the earth’s surface PLUS all the direct effects of the impact such as possible huge tsunamis, earthquakes, fireball, etc. etc. Jay Melosh and collaborators plus other groups have studied all this in considerable detail; a cursory reading of the primary sources will show the above to be true. Worse case scenario for blowing up an impactor is one hemisphere of the earth gets par-boiled, not the entire surface (not protected by cloud cover) and with no direct blast effects. When in doubt, BLOW IT THE HELL UP!

  120. ATTENTION!! ATTENTION!! ALL OF YOU MORONS SHUT THE HELL UP ABOUT THIS YOU GUYS DO NOTHING BUT PUT PEOPLE IN A PANIC!!

  121. Devin

    For all you Dec 21,2012 end of the world believers; there have been about 514 leap years since Ceaser created it in 45BC. Without the extra day every 4 years today would be July 30th, 2013. Also, the Mayan calendar did not account for leap year….so technically the world should have ended 7 months ago!

  122. Chris

    To add another perspective…Earth’s diameter is about 13,000 km. 2012 DA14 is predicted to pass about 27,000 km away (from Earth’s SURFACE I’m guessing? – not Earth’s CENTER?). That’s about 2x Earth’s diameter. So, how confident are we in DA14’s track?

    If we’re extremely confident in the track within +/- 1x of Earth’s diameter, then we’re in good shape.

    But if our confidence is +/- 2x Earth’s diameter, then there’s a sufficient risk that we should monitor carefully.

  123. Chris Laurel

    I used the trajectory computed by JPL’s HORIZONS system to create a video of the Feb 15, 2013 approach:

    http://youtu.be/S7YTmS6U8WM

    You can see asteroid approach Earth from the south and pass within the ring of geosynchronous satellites. The alteration of the asteroid’s orbit by Earth’s gravity is plainly apparent and interesting to watch.

  124. Chris (140): That’s really cool! But one thing: in the video you say the approach is within 22,000 km, but everything I’ve seen says 27,000. I assume the difference is you mean distance from the Earth’s surface?

  125. Chris Laurel

    Phil–
    Glad you liked the video! You’re right: I’m using the distance to the Earth’s surface, and elsewhere folks are reporting the distance to the Earth’s center. I felt the distance to the surface was the relevant figure. I should have been specified which distance I was using in the video.

    (The current ephemeris from HORIZONS shows a minimum distance to geocenter of 27158 km at 19:27:30 2013-Feb-15 UTC.)

  126. Tom Burcher

    Of course it’s going to miss the Earth. The world’s coming to an end on 12/21/12, so the Earth won’t be here to hit, right? ;-)

  127. aceer

    so are we going to actually see this thing flying overhead ???

  128. Was wondering if it may impact our moon? Doesnt seem to worry anybody since it will miss our earth by 16500 miles, which by the way some of our airplane’s fly above that, then what about our moon? No one wants to talk about that, hum..whats up?

  129. PLopo

    To me, a denial written so emphatically incites as much cause for concern as the doomsday articles do. I am not trying to tip the scales here… I know nothing about this sort of thing. It does strike me as odd that such great certainty is being pronounced by any credible agencies after only two weeks of observation. I would feel a little more comfortable if the articles just straight up said, “Hey – there’s a new astroid on the block. It is going to come near next Feb, but we don’t really know much about it.” Two weeks doesn’t seem worth squat for making conclusions, in my humble, scientifically inclined opinion.

  130. Chew

    @PLopo said, ‘in my humble, scientifically inclined opinion”. Was that opinion formed immediately after you said, “I know nothing about this sort of thing”? If you know nothing about this sort of thing then you aren’t qualified to say two weeks of observations isn’t enough.

    2012 DA14 at the JPL Small-Body Database Browser

  131. Mark Hansen

    PLopo, why does an emphatic denial give you cause for concern? Would a half-hearted denial sound better? The reason the denial can be so, apparently, alarmingly emphatic is because the orbit can be determined for this pass accurately enough to show that it will miss. The orbit can’t be determined precisely enough yet to completely rule out an impact on the next pass (2020). Which, curiously enough, is what was written further up the page and I quote;
    “…There will always be some small amount of fuzziness to the orbit of an asteroid, though, and the farther ahead in the future you look the bigger that fuzziness gets. For next year, we know the orbit of DA14 well enough to know it’ll miss, but for future orbits it’s harder to say.…”
    It is a good idea to read the whole article before criticising it.

    Zane, which aircraft fly above 16,500 miles? Also; if the asteroid does impact the moon, then what of it? Aside from being scientifically interesting if observable, it will not affect the Earth.

  132. Nigel Depledge

    @ Zane (147) –

    I’m only aware of two aircraft that fly above 16,500 metres, never mind miles (Those being Concorde and the U2).

  133. Cindy Moore
  134. Joe

    Because of earths gravity you cannot be certain that it won’t hit us being so close. The earths gravity can lure it in.

  135. Kevin in Sacramento

    @156. Joe;
    JPL considers perturbations by all planets, a few of the larger asteroids, a few other physical usually small forces, and requires numerical integration.

    So yes, we KNOW 2012 DA14 will NOT hit us in 2013.

  136. steve

    Well lets just say that a meteor DOES hit the earth, which yeah yeah I know it wont happen, BUT if one does, where would it hit?????????

  137. Ravish

    Well, I guess Mayan miscalculated the day by 2 months, its not December 2012 its Feb 2013..

  138. Brian Slevin
  139. Simon

    Worry less about that one, and focus instead on the fact
    that despite all that tech we have at our disposal, this was
    discovered a mere 4 days before it made its first pass —
    to our knowlege — and, it’s been in that cycle for a very long time.

    It’s not like the thing has been circling out to Pluto’s neck of the woods.

    Let’s ask ourselves how many others like it are actually up there
    posing similar threats, what is the risk if one or the other hits the moon
    and showers us with all kinds of issues, and more importantly, how come
    THESE potential matters for concern don’t seem to get any attention.

    It’s not like the moon has too many craters to get another one.

    I mean, come on, now. How long have we been told to “watch the skies”
    and this thing is just now getting found out? Coke bottles, much?

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