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Feb 15, 2013 Comments Off on Asteroid Safely Passes Earth, Though Closer Than Any Before, Closer Than Some Satellites Pat Dollard

Excerpted from Voice of America: The U.S. space agency, NASA, said the more than 45-meter asteroid passed within 28,000 kilometers of the planet on Friday — closer than some satellites.

The asteroid passed Earth just hours after a much smaller meteor exploded in the sky above Russia’s Ural Mountains.

NASA scientists warned last week about the asteroid, but said there was no chance the space rock would hit Earth.

The speeding asteroid was too small to be seen with the naked eye as it passed overhead. But astronomers in Australia were able to watch the point of light speed across the sky through binoculars and telescopes.

The asteroid was expected to move eight times as fast as a rifle bullet.

Excerpted from Sky News: A 150ft-long asteroid has skimmed harmlessly past the Earth – closer than any other near-miss on record.

The huge chunk of rock – so big it is capable of wiping out London – was travelling closer to the planet than many satellites when it reached its nearest point at 7.25pm.

But while it should have been visible as a tiny dot of light crossing the sky to those using binoculars – weather permitting – scientists had said there was no chance it would hit Earth.

People have gathered across the UK with binoculars and telescopes to catch a glimpse of the asteroid, called 2012 DA14, which is now moving away from the planet.

It had been expected to reach no closer than 17,200 miles (27,681km) away – easily far enough to be safe – but very close in astronomical terms.

At a weight of 143,000 tons, it would have wiped out an area of 750 square miles if it hit had the Earth’s surface.

Astronomers in the US were unable to see it at its closest approach, but colleagues in Australia watched the point of light speed across a clear night sky.

There was a remote possibility that it could collide with one of more than 100 telecommunication and weather satellites in fixed orbits. It is expected to have moved outside Earth’s ring of satellites by around 10.30pm UK time.

Experts have been closely tracking the asteroid since its discovery a year ago.

Astronomer and asteroid expert Dr Dan Brown, from Nottingham Trent University, said star-gazers would have seen it pass from the constellation Leo to roughly the Plough, “more or less from anywhere in the UK”, and that it would have been bright for an hour.

DA14 belongs to a dangerous family of near-Earth objects (NEOs) that are small enough to be missed but large enough to cause serious damage.

It was detected in February last year by La Sagra Observatory in southern Spain as it fell under the spotlight of the Sun’s rays.

It was estimated to be travelling at 12,427mph (20,000kph) and 18,641mph (30,000kph) – around five miles a second, or eight times the speed of a rifle bullet.

Scientists at Nasa’s Near-Earth Object programme at California’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory estimate and object of this size makes a close approach such as this every 40 years.