A newly-discovered asteroid that is around 50 meters wide will narrowly miss colliding with the Earth next year, space scientists have calculated.
The giant space rock will scrape past at a distance of just 24,000 km (15,000 miles) which will bring it inside the orbit of many commercial satellites.
Labelled 2012 DA14, the asteroid was first spotted on February 22 when it hurtled past at seven times the distance of the Moon. It is on a similar orbit to our own planet which means close encounters will happen regularly.
It was discovered by an automatic telescope, the La Sagra Sky Survey observatory, operated by amateur astronomers near Granada, Spain. Since then calculations of its orbit have revealed there will be a near miss when it next flies by on February 15, 2013.
Space scientists say there is no danger of an impact next year but they will not monitor the asteroid’s path to check whether it poses a threat in future years. Detlef Koschny, an expert on such asteroids at the European Space Agency, said: “We will be keen to see the asteroid’s resulting orbit after the next close approach in order to compute any future risk of impact.”
An asteroid the size of 2012 DA14 could explode with the force of a nuclear bomb if it entered our atmosphere – which this on won’t next year, remember – showering the ground with fragments and flattening buildings, bridges and trees for hundreds of square miles.
Jaime Nomen, a member of the team that made the discovery, said: “It was a slippery target and easily could have escaped undetected during this Earth visit. “A preliminary orbit calculation shows that 2012 DA14 has a very Earth-like orbit with a period of 366.24 days, just one more day than our year, and it jumps inside and outside of the path of Earth two times per year.”
ESA estimates that half a million asteroids up to 30 meters across that come close to Earth in their orbits remain undiscovered. They plan to build a bigger network of automatic telescopes to help find them at least three weeks before they make their closest approach to Earth.”
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