Thursday, March 22, 2012

Near-miss asteroid will return next year

When it whizzes past Earth in 2013, a newly discovered asteroid is going to miss our planet - but not by much. The 50 m space rock is expected to come closer than many satellites, highlighting the growing need to keep watch on hazards from above.
An amateur team discovered the unusual asteroid, dubbed 2012 DA14, on 22 February. Its small size and orbit meant that it was spotted only after it had flown past Earth at about seven times the distance of the Moon.
However, current predictions indicate that on its next flyby, due on 15 February 2013, it will pass Earth at just 24 000 km - closer than many commercial satellites.
"This is a safe distance, but it is still close enough to make the asteriud visible in normal binoculars," says Detlef Koschny, responsible for near-earth objects in ESA's Space Situational Awareness (SSA) office.
Astronomers in Spain spot 'slippery target'The asteroid was discovered by the La Sagra Sky Survey observatory, in the southeast of Spain, near Granada, at an altitude of 1700 m, one of the darkest, least light-polluted locations on the European mainland.
"Considering its path in the morning sky, its rather fast angular motion, the quite faint and fading brightness and its orbit high above the plane of Earth's orbit, it was a slippery target - and easily could have escaped undetected during this Earth visit," says Jaime Nomen, one of the discoverers.
The team use several automated telescopes to scan the sky, and the discovery came somewhat serendipitously after they decided to search areas of the sky where asteroids are not usually seen. Read More