Good news, Earthlings! The day after Valentine's Day a 150-foot-wide asteroid will fly so close to our planet that it will pass through the orbit of several satellites, but experts said on Thursday that it will not hit us. In fact, the so-called DA14 asteroid will be such a close call that the force of Earth's gravity will actually cause the asteroid to ricochet off those orbits, creating more distance between the asteroid and our planet so that the next fly-by won't be so nerve-wracking. At 17,100 miles away, the DA14 will become the largest object ever (on record) to fly so close to Earth and not hit it. Which is really good news since it's traveling eight times faster than a speeding bullet. Scientists say that it could take out a satellite or two, however.
It's hard not to hear the theme song to Armageddon in your head when thinking about this sort of thing. Although 17,100 miles is a lot of miles in terms of space distance, for an asteroid half the size of the International Space Station to zip by so closely is a little breath-taking. It also leads us to wonder: At what point do we start talking about sending Bruce Willis and his persnickety pack of oil drillers into space to stop the dang thing? DA14's projected path brings it just one-thirteenth the distance to the moon from Earth, less than seven roundtrip flights from New York to Los Angeles. If it hit us, the resultant explosion would have the force of a 2.5-megaton atomic bomb. (Note: The above image of DA14 is not an accurate representation of the asteroid. It is what they call an artist's rendition, and it is absolutely, positively not to scale. If an asteroid half the size of Earth hit us, well, that would be it.)
Rocket scientists did their best, however, to calm our fears with words this week. Donald Yeomans, manager of the near-Earth object office at California's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said, "This asteroid's orbit is so well known that we can say with confidence it can pass no closer than 17,100 miles from Earth's surface, so no Earth impact is possible." Orbital debris expert William Ailor made it sound even safer, "The fact is, we don't have collisions very often, even among the satellites that are there all the time," he said. "Space is very active, but there's a lot of it above us."
Now it's time for the bad news. This record breaking brush with cosmic inevitability is just a reminder that we're sometimes on the wrong end of the galaxy's shooting range and never completely safe from world-ending event. Don't get scared — the chances are slim. But as Yeomans put it, "There are lots of asteroids we are watching where we haven't yet ruled out an Earth impact." But, thankfully, the one that will zip by on February 15 is not one of them. Not this time around anyways.
Still scared? Let this graphic illustration soothe you:
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