Scientists brace for a close peek at asteroid
Mumbai, Feb 11 : Indian scientists will join their counterparts globally for a rare celestial event scheduled for the night of Feb 15-16 -- the passing of an asteroid very close to Earth, around 28,000 km away, and visible with ordinary binoculars, a Mumbai astro-scientist said here Monday.
The asteroid, named 2012 DA14, measuring an estimated 44 metres in diameter and up to 75 metres long, and weighing around 130,000 tonnes was discovered by an observatory in Spain Feb 22, 2012.
It will travel at a dizzying speed of a little over six km per second, or around 22,000 kmph, leaving a blazing trail behind it, as it shoots past in a south-north direction above Earth, said Bharat Adur, Director, Akash Ganga Centre for Astronomy (AGCA), Thane.
"At its closest point, it will be within the orbit of the moon and closer than some high-orbiting geosynchronous communications satellites. It will be a unique opportunity for observation and study the asteroid which will be the closest to approach Earth, without recent precedents," Adur told IANS.
2012 DA14 will cross the Earth's orbit shortly after midnight of Feb 15-16 at an average distance of around 28,000 km and will be visible with ordinary binoculars in a clear dark sky, he said.
Amateurs and commoners can also watch the flyby online, realtime, at: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/clay-center-observatory] and [http://events.slooh.com/]
"There is no danger of it coming closer to Earth or even colliding with it, nor is there any co-relation with the ongoing Maha Kumbh Mela and the asteriod's arrival," Adur chuckled.
However, he added that if it would have indeed collided, it could have caused an earthquake measuring at least four on the Richter scale, impacting a large vicinity and enough to flatten a city.
As for the origins of this asteroid, classified as an 'Apollo type asteriod' Near Earth Object, Adur said it will come within the asteroid field between Earth and Mars.
Usually cold and hard rocks, asteriods are believed to be celestial bodies which never became planets and continue to criss-cross the solar system and even beyond at regular intervals.
The 2012 DA14 will again be visible in 2020 and even at that time, it will be zooming past at a very safe distance from Earth, with the chance of a collision as remote as one in 83,000, according to a NASA study, Adur said.