Asteroid 2012 Da14 generated quite a lot of buzz when it was discovered last year, and next month it’s set to make its eerily close pass by Earth.
Initially, there were fears that 2012 Da14 might come a little too close to Earth, enough to possibly impact. Fortunately for all of us, astronomers said at the time that there was essentially no chance of the asteroid hitting the Earth, and that hasn’t changed.
When the asteroid passes by between February 15-16, 2013, it will be a little too close for comfort; it’s expected to come as close as 34,500km (21,400 miles) which happens to be around the same distance as geostationary satellites orbiting the planet. In fact, it could actually go under some orbiting satellites.
The next time asteroid 2012 Da14 passes by Earth will be in 2020 and, according to NASA, there’s no chance of that pass impacting Earth. Initially, however, there appeared to be a possibility. Earth Sky reports that in March of last year, NASA astronomer Donald Yeomans said there was a “1 in 83,000” chance of an impact.
Fortunately, NASA has since ruled out that possibility after further observation and number crunching.
While we’re safe from the threat of asteroid impacts for at least the next decade, the future isn’t quite so certain. The infamous asteroid 99942 Apophis is due to come barreling towards Earth in 2029 and, unlike 2012 Da14, there is a chance of impact – even if it’s small.
Initial estimates suggested that the probability of impact was in the 2.7% range, which would make it the highest probability ever. The risk was downgraded after astronomers had more time to examine the asteroid, but the chance of an impact still exists – but only a 1 in 250,000 chance.
An impact from Apophis in 2029 isn’t the only thing astronomers have to look out for. Some concern has been raised over whether or not Apophis could pass through a “gravitational keyhole,” an immensely tiny region above Earth where gravity would be able to alter the course of the asteroid, putting it on a path that would result in a much higher chance of impact.