Friday, February 15, 2013

Near miss: if you’re reading this after 2:24 p.m. Eastern, the asteroid spared us

Look, up in the sky! Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

Nah. It’s 2012 DA14, and asteroid that’s passing “perilously close” to the earth.

Of course, NASA’s idea of “perilously close” is a bit farther out than mine – 17,200 miles sounds “comfortably distant” to me. Especially when it will be at its closest to Mother Earth when it’s over the Indian Ocean. (Out of continent, out of mind.)

Still, a 130,000 metric ton asteroid would cause a big ouchy if it landed on your beanie.

It will be travelling eight times as fast as a bullet from a high-powered rifle.  (Source: WSJ Online.)

Talk about faster than a speeding bullet and, no doubt, more powerful than a locomotive.

Alas, Americans won’t get a glimpse:

Depending on local weather, it may be visible from Eastern Europe, Australia and Asia, with binoculars or a moderately powered telescope, space-agency officials said.

Those guys in Eastern Europe have all the luck!

Although I guess you could argue that we’re all pretty lucky. This is “the closest known approach of a dangerous cosmic object since NASA started tracking such debris.”

This non-critter is only about 150 feet across, so even if it crashed down or splashed down, it wouldn’t do as much harm as the six-mile-wide asteroid that slammed in off the coast of Mexico a while – make that 66 million years – back. That one has been linked with the extinction of the dinosaur.  But even something as petite as 150 feet across will do some damage if it weighs 130,000 metric tons and is traveling eight times faster than a bullet fired from a high-powered rifle.

Hey, if it gets closer, maybe all the folks with the assault weapons can go after it. Forget clay pigeons, that’d be some real skeet shooting.

2012 DA14 is, of course, not alone out there. NASA estimates that there are about a half-million floaters about the size of 2012 DA14 sailing around over our heads and crossing our path with some regularity.

At least one object that size flies close to Earth about every 40 years and one likely hits the planet about once every 1,200 years, astronomers calculate.

I’m assuming that this is the every-forty-year-drive-by, so I should be good for life, but it would be helpful to know when that “once every 1,200 years” sucker last hit. Sounds like we’re A-OK, to ues the only space parlance I know, since this was the last one I found. It occurred in 1908, when:

An asteroid estimated at 50 meters across explodes above Tunguska, Siberia, blowing down trees across 2,000 square kilometers and killing a thousand reindeer, but apparently no people. Because the stony object exploded in the atmosphere, there's no crater. (Source: Why Files)

Well, if an asteroid is going to screw up 2,000 square kilometers, Siberia is as good a place as any, but too bad about those reindeer. Counting the bodies must have been a fun task, but the Czar had plenty of minions to dispatch to take that particular and peculia census.

Anyway, 1200 years from 1908 gives NASA plenty of time to figure out how to divert an asteroid of evil that’s hell bent on doing us harm. Phew!

But what is up with Fridays?

I know that each day of the week has a bit over a 14% chance of being the day when something bad happens, but still…

Last Friday, it was the storm of this century. Today, it’s the near miss of an asteroid. What do  you think will happen next Friday? (Friday, Friday…)

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