Asteroid buzzes, misses Earth, unlike meteor over Russia - FOX 35 News Orlando

Asteroid buzzes, misses Earth, unlike meteor over Russia

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(NASA image) (NASA image)
CAPE CANAVERAL (AP) -

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Due to a technical error, the beginning of our interview with Anthony Pelaez was cut off. We apologize for the glitch.)

A 150-foot asteroid hurtled through Earth's backyard Friday, coming within an incredible 17,150 miles and making the closest known flyby for a rock of its size. In a chilling coincidence, a meteor exploded above Russia's Ural Mountains just hours before the asteroid zoomed past the planet.

Scientists the world over, along with NASA, insisted the meteor had nothing to do with the asteroid since they appeared to be traveling in opposite directions. The asteroid is a much more immense object and delighted astronomers in Australia and elsewhere who watched it zip harmlessly through a clear night sky.

"It's on its way out," reported Paul Chodas of NASA's Near-Earth Object program at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

Asteroid 2012 DA14, as it's called, came closer to Earth than many communication and weather satellites orbiting 22,300 miles up. Scientists insisted these, too, would be spared, and they were right.

The asteroid was too small to see with the naked eye even at its closest approach around 2:25 p.m. EST, over the Indian Ocean near Sumatra.

NASA's deep-space antenna in California's Mojave Desert was ready to collect radar images, but not until eight hours after the closest approach given the United States' poor positioning for the big event.

A team from the Clay Center Observatory in Brookline, Massachusetts, will use the facility's 25-inch telescope to track and image the asteroid. The team anticipates locking onto the asteroid well before 6:00 p.m. EST and tracking it until approximately 3:00 a.m. EST the following morning.

Watch online: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/clay-center-observatory

As asteroids go, DA14 is a shrimp. The one that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago was 6 miles across. But this rock could still do immense damage if it struck, releasing the energy equivalent of 2.4 million tons of TNT and wiping out 750 square miles.
 
Scientists are certain it won't impact Earth. And chances are extremely remote it will run into any of the satellites orbiting 22,300 miles up.

Most of the solar system's asteroids are situated in a belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, and remain stable there for billions of years. Some occasionally pop out, though, into Earth's neighborhood.

LINK: Video of meteor exploding over Russia

The flyby provides a rare learning opportunity for scientists eager to keep future asteroids at bay -- and a prime-time advertisement for those anxious to step up preventive measures.
 
"We are in a shooting gallery and this is graphic evidence of it," said former Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart, chairman emeritus of the B612 Foundation, committed to protecting Earth from dangerous asteroids.
 
Schweickart noted that 500,000 to 1 million sizable near-Earth objects -- asteroids or comets -- are out there. Yet less than 1 percent -- fewer than 10,000 -- have been inventoried.

Humanity has to do better, he said. The foundation is working to build and launch an infrared space telescope to find and track threatening asteroids.

DA14 -- discovered by Spanish astronomers last February -- is "such a close call" that it is a "celestial torpedo across the bow of spaceship Earth," Schweickart said in a phone interview Thursday.
 
Astronomers organized asteroid-encounter parties for Friday and experts just about everywhere were giving flyby rundowns.
 
NASA's deep-space antenna in California's Mojave Desert was ready to collect radar images, but not until eight hours after the closest approach given the United States' poor positioning for the big event.
 
Scientists at NASA's Near-Earth Object program at California's Jet Propulsion Laboratory estimate that an object of this size makes a close approach like this every 40 years. The likelihood of a strike is every 1,200 years.
 
If a killer asteroid was, indeed, incoming, a spacecraft could be launched to nudge the asteroid out of Earth's way, changing its speed and the point of intersection. A second spacecraft would make a slight alteration in the path of the asteroid and ensure it never intersects with the planet again, Schweickart said.
 
Of course, this is all in theory.
 
Forget an asteroid blowup like the one depicted in the 1998 film "Armageddon." The last thing Earth needs is asteroid fragments raining down.
 
"Thanks, Hollywood," Schweickart said with a laugh.




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