An asteroid about half the size of an American football field will pass so close to Earth on Friday that it will fly between the planet and its television and telecommunication satellites.
The asteroid, called 2012 DA14, which is believed to be 150 feet long and weigh 130,000 metric tons, is expected to make its closest approach around 2pm local time Friday, passing 17,000 miles from the Earth’s surface.
NASA has assured that Earth is safe.
“There are lots of asteroids that we’re watching that we haven’t yet ruled out an Earth impact, but all of them have an impact probability that is very, very low,” said Don Yeomans, manager of the Near-Earth Object Programme Office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, during a media briefing last week.
“No Earth impact is possible,” Mr. Yeomans said.
On its approach to Earth, the asteroid will be travelling at 4.8 miles per second, about eight times the speed of a bullet from a high-powered rifle, he said.
NASA officials say an asteroid this size strikes the Earth on average every 1,200 years and that this flyby creates a unique opportunity for researchers to observe and learn more about asteroids.
According to the Cayman Islands Astronomical Society: “If that [17,000 miles] seems along way ‘up’ to you, then consider that geostationary satellites that provide our satellite TV orbit at a height of 22,200 miles – so this takes the record for the closest known approach, for an object this size.” The near-Earth asteroid was discovered by the LaSagra observatory in southern Spain.
It will travel rapidly from the southern evening sky into the northern morning sky with its closest Earth approach occurring about 2pm local time.
While it will be too faint to be seen by the human eye, it can be seen with telescopes.
Chris Cooke of the local astronomical society said the object will not be visible in Cayman as it passes during the daytime here, but may be visible to those watching in Europe and Asia. “It’ll be very faint,” he said.
The Cayman Islands Astronomical Society has a scheduled skywatching meeting at Pedro St. James on Friday night, so while the asteroid may not be visible in Cayman, there’s plenty of other celestial objects at which to peer.
Mr. Cooke said next month may also be an exciting month for stargazers as a comet is expected to be seen quite clearly from Cayman and another far brighter comet is also expected to pass by in November.
Anyone interested in joining or finding out more about the Cayman Islands Astronomical Society can contact Mr. Cooke at [email protected] or 925-7657.