Earth is safe as the 46-meter asteroid is set for flyby by next week
The asteroid was discovered last year by Spanish astronomers and since then sparked fears of a possible cosmic collision that would have released the energy equivalent of 2.4 million tons of TNT and would have had the potential to wipe out 750 square miles if it did impact the Earth.
But scientists reassured the world on Thursday that there is no real threat.
“No Earth impact is possible,” said Donald Yeomans, manager of NASA’s Near-Earth Object program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “No one has raised a red flag, nor will they,” Yeomans told reporters. “I certainly don’t anticipate any problems whatsoever.”
The celestial body, referred to as 2012 DA14, is projected to come as close as 27,520 km on February 15 – which is closer to our planet than the TV satellites that fly some 800 km higher. It will pass at a speed of 13 km per second.
It is the closest encounter with an object of its size since scientists began routinely monitoring asteroids about 15 years ago.
The last time the Earth was struck by a major cosmic body was in 1908, when an asteroid or comet exploded over Siberia, leveling 80 million trees over 2,150 square km.
"Although they wouldn't (cause) a global catastrophe if they impact the Earth, they still do a lot of regional destruction," said Lindley Johnson, who oversees the Near-Earth Object Observations Program at NASA headquarters in Washington DC.
The asteroid will be invisible to the naked eye, appearing only as a small point of light even to those observing it by telescope. The prime viewing locations will be in Asia, Australia and Eastern Europe.
NASA adds that the flyby will provide a unique opportunity for researchers to study a near-Earth object up close.
About 66 million years ago, a 10 km diameter asteroid smashed into what is now the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, leading to the demise of the dinosaurs as well as most plant and animal life on the planet.