Astronomers in Notts get telescopes ready for huge asteroid on Friday
ASTRONOMERS in Notts are getting their telescopes ready for a huge asteroid that will skim past Earth this week.
The 150ft (47.5m) wide rock, which is capable of destroying a city the size of London, will fly past our planet on Friday.
The asteroid, known as 2012 DA14, will stay at least 17,200 miles away from Earth, but scientists say there is a chance it could crash into one of more than 100 telecommunication and weather satellites in orbit.
2012 DA14 has been closely tracked since its discovery a year ago by Nottingham astronomer, Dr Dan Brown, among others. It is predicted to reach its nearest point to the Earth at around 7.30pm on Friday.
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Although it is easily far away enough to be safe, it is a very close shave in astronomical terms. Scientists have never observed such a narrow miss before.
Through binoculars, the object should be visible as a tiny dot of light crossing the sky.
Asteroid expert Dr Brown, from Nottingham Trent University, said: "It will be too faint for the naked eye but with binoculars it should be visible if you know where to look. It will be low to the north-eastern horizon and moving quite quickly. You'll be able to see it pass from the constellation Leo to roughly the Plough, more or less from anywhere in the UK, and it will be bright for about an hour."
DA14 belongs to dangerous family of near-Earth objects (NEOs) that are small enough to be missed but large enough to cause serious damage. It was detected in February last year at La Sagra Observatory, in southern Spain, as it fell under the spotlight of the Sun's rays.
Travelling at between 12,427mph (20,000kph) and 18,641mph (30,000kph) – around five miles (8km) a second, or eight times the speed of a rifle bullet – the asteroid will fly inside the orbits of many high man-made satellites some 22,000 miles (35,406km) above the Earth.
"These are the satellites that provide us with telecommunications and weather forecasts," said Dr Brown.
"There are loads of them but you're talking about a very big area. It would be very unlucky if a satellite was hit.
"The asteroid is more likely to hit some space junk, but most of this is only about a centimetre across and the impact won't even be noticed."
Precise calculations showed there was absolutely no possibility of DA14 hitting the Earth, Dr Brown said.
But scientists had a good idea of what the effect of such an impact would be because a similar sized meteor devastated a remote region of Siberia in 1908.
Exploding a short distance above the ground over Tunguska, the object generated a blast 1,000 times more powerful than the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
"Forest was completely flattened over an area of 830 square miles (2,150 sq km).
"We think the object that impacted at Tunguska would have been of a similar size to DA14," said Dr Brown.
"Actually, it exploded in the air. It didn't destroy humanity, but if this object had exploded over London it would have wiped out London."