Friday, February 8, 2013

Asteroid on track for close encounter

Having survived the widely predicted end of the world a couple of months ago, another fantastically fearsome event is right on schedule - for next Friday, February 15th.
Experts say the fast approaching 2012 DA14 asteroid is the biggest object to pass so close to the Earth since regular asteroid surveys began. It was first spotted in February last year by La Sagra astronomical observatory in the mountains of neighbouring Andalusia.
An intriguing fact that seems to have gone unreported by the mainstream media is that this observatory is very modestly equipped and unoccupied except for a single caretaker or maintenance man. It is controlled remotely by people located elsewhere in Spain – and in Hong Kong!
What has certainly not gone unreported is that an asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs. More than 60 million years on, however, we hominids can relax and continue our strange ways as if nothing unusual is happening.
This latest asteroid will bypass us with no ill effects whatsoever. Indeed, most of us would have been totally unaware of anything special in prospect had it not been for the media who do love to ratchet up the fear factor at every opportunity.
The normally conservative Daily Telegraph has informed us that “the 130,000 tonne space rock will miss Earth so narrowly that it will come within the orbit of some communication satellites, travelling at a speed of five miles per second – eight times the speed of a bullet from a rifle.”
Trust the Daily Mail to point out that if 2012 DA14 did hit the Earth – which it won’t – it could wipe out a city the size of Greater London.
Just in case bankers and businessmen were getting a little too complacent, the Wall Street Journal has noted that “if there were an impact, energy generated from 2012 DA14 would be an estimated 120 times greater than that of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.”
Many newspapers and TV networks have relayed the words of Donald Yeomans, manager of the near-Earth object office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. He told a press conference: “This asteroid seems to be passing the sweet spot between the GPS satellites and weather and communications satellites.”
It only seems to be passing the sweet spot?
Apart from the very remote possibility that viewers may find their favourite Sky TV programmes rudely interrupted, none us will notice anything different at all. No sudden gust of wind, no bang in the night, not even a pinprick of sinister light visible to the naked eye. Just business as usual as the rock sweeps by on its way to heaven knows where.
Actually, at 45 metres across, this is quite a small rock by celestial standards, and there have been plenty of them during the Earth’s four-and-a-half billion-year history.
According to Time magazine: “The fact is, there are a whole lot more of them than you likely know: from Feb. 5 to May 5 of this year, no fewer than 77 space rocks that could, in theory have Earth’s name on them, will be whizzing by. On March 20 alone, when you may have been planning to celebrate the first day of spring, there will be seven.”
Meanwhile, to ensure harmony, for goodness sake don’t forget that the big day to celebrate close encounters is not Friday 15th, but Thursday 14th - Valentine’s Day!

1 comment: