News Column

Watch Asteroid Flyby Online

Feb. 14, 2013

Peter Mucha

asteroid

Nature's firing another warning shot across the bow of Spaceship Earth on Friday, and NASA will stream close-up views early in the afternoon.

At 2:25 p.m., asteroid 2012 DA14 will get within 17,150 miles of our planet -- less than a twelfth of the distance to the moon and well inside the orbits of geosynchronous satellites, which apparently aren't in the 150-foot, 130,000-ton space rock's path.

A rock that size is big enough to destroy a city.

Nothing this large has been observed coming this close, according to a Bloomberg report.

Beginning about noon Friday, images of the approaching asteroid from astronomers in Europe and Australia will be streamed, weather permitting, at www.ustream.tv/nasajpl2.

For a half-hour starting at 2 p.m., NASA will begin providing commentary along with live images from observatories in Australia, again weather-permitting, at www.nasa.gov/ntv, as well as the link above.

It's just a hint, thank goodness, at much-scarier, though remote, possibilities.

A much more massive "near-Earth object" named Apophis will come nearly as close -- 19,400 miles -- on April 13, 2029. If an object that size -- about 1,000 feet across -- collided with the planet, the explosion would be about 10 times more powerful than the biggest blast in the history of nuclear weapons testing, scientists estimate.

An asteroid measuring about 2 kilometers, or 1.25 miles, long could "produce severe environmental damage on a global scale," according to NASA.

The asteroid suspected of wiping out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago is estimated to have been about 10 kilometers, or 6.2 miles across.

As of this month, NASA's Near-Earth Object Program has found 861 asteroids at least 1 kilometer in diameter, but none of the calculated orbits suggest a collision course with Earth within the next 100 years.

The hope is that any potential rock of mass destruction can be found far enough in advance to develop a way to safely neutralize the threat. While Hollywood has dramatized the seeming simple idea of using nuclear weapons at the brink of doomsday, scientists know that a gentle nudge -- perhaps even by a pelting with a plethora of paintballs to make the surface reflective enough to increase the pressure of sunlight -- might be sufficient if applied early.



Source: (c)2013 The Philadelphia Inquirer Distributed by MCT Information Services


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