Asteroid 2012 DA14 is a rock about 40 meters (130 feet) across that passed very close to Earth last month, and will pass even closer in February of next year. Calculations indicate it will pass about 22,000 km (14,000 miles) from the Earth’s surface on February 15, 2013. And it will miss.
I was a bit surprised not to be able to find good images of the rock — only a bit, since it’s small and faint — but the European Space Agency just released a nice animated gif showing it moving across the field of stars:
This was taken by the La Sagra Sky Survey in southern Spain, by the folks who discovered the asteroid in the first place. And, it turns out, one of the reason they were able to find it at all was because they got a small grant from The Planetary Society which they used to upgrade a detector on one of their telescopes! The Shoemaker Near-Earth Object grants specifically go to observatories to help them find potentially threatening asteroids. Since 1997, The Planetary Society has given $235,000 in grants to the cause, which is fantastic.
The threat from asteroids is quite real, and something we need to understand better. With folks like The Planetary Society (and, say, the B612 Foundation as well as NASA’s NEO program) out there doing the research and also helping others, we’re headed in the right direction.
Image credit: La Sagra/ESA