Rare, earth-kissing flyby of asteroid captured on camera

Asteroid 2012 DA 14 flew over the Pune skyline on Friday 11.30pm, and for hours, amateur as well as professional astronomers in the city were watching. They did not want to miss the rare celestial phenomenon of an asteroid flying so close to the earth, closer than even some geostationary artificial satellites.

"The asteroid was half the size of a football field and around 27,000 km from us. Probably, this was one of the closest approaches of an asteroid till date. Only two known asteroids have ventured closer than this," said Deepak Joshi, vice-president, Jyotirvidya Parisanstha (JVP), India's oldest amateur astronomers' association. The JVP team tracked the asteroid on Friday night with support from Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA).

"Asteroid 2012 DA 14 was nearest earth around 1.15am. If any celestial body is at a distance of less than 7,50,000 km, it is considered potentially hazardous. The asteroid was even nearer than the geostationary communication satellites," Joshi said. "The orbit of the asteroid was too skewed to the orbits of satellites; otherwise, it would have hit some of our satellites. Had it fallen on the earth it would have been a major catastrophe, triggering the biggest ever earthquake or a Tsunami. This small asteroid with its estimated 143,000-tonne mass, would have released the energy equivalent to 2.4 million tonne of TNT and wiped out 2,000 sq km," he added.

NASA on Saturday said asteroid 2012 DA and the meteor that struck Russia almost at the same time are not connected. "Asteroids are huge rock masses that have fixed orbits. But now that it has entered the earth's orbit, due to gravity, the time period of its orbit may change. Now, more studies will be carried out. It can still be seen through powerful telescopes," said Sameer Dhurde, Science Popularizsation officer, IUCAA.

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