Asteroid tracked by National Space Centre Leicester as it zips past Earth
Sky-watchers at the National Space Centre have been keeping an eye on an asteroid which will pass within a whisker of the Earth – in space terms – today.
The 150ft-wide rock, 2012 DA14, will zip by Earth at about 7.8km a second.
It will miss us by just 17,100 miles – but could collide with one or more of 100 communications and weather satellites, potentially knocking out mobile phones and sat navs.
A team from the Near Earth Orbit Information Programme, based at the National Space Centre, in Leicester, has been tracking the object for about a year.
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"There are about half a million objects such as asteroids and comets which will never get close to us.
"But then there are a few which count as close approaches and are placed on a risk list," said Josh Barker, of the space communication team, also based at the space centre.
"Friday's asteroid was discovered about a year ago by an amateur astronomer and has been tracked with a silly amount of accuracy ever since.
"But there's nothing to worry about.
"If we can ever be certain that something isn't going to hit the Earth, it's now."
The asteroid will appear to pass between the constellations of Leo and The Plough at about 4.30pm on Friday, but is unlikely to be visible in the UK because it will be too light at that time.
It will then make its closest pass to Earth at about 7.30pm, near the Equator.
The space centre collates information from about 1,000 observatories around the world, in countries including Sweden, Russia, France, Germany and countries in South America.
Data about thousands of astral objects is compiled and the team looks for signs of movement.
The results are then made available to the Government and other organisations which might want to use the data.
"There are more close passes than you think," said Josh.
"It just so happens that Friday's asteroid is closer than anything we've seen before.
"But there are nine close approaches before that even happens – they're just a lot further away, some more than 75 times the distance of the Moon, so you'd never notice them.
"Close is a relative term, though. In the context of space, 75 times the distance of the Moon is a whisker away."
The last time an equivalent object collided with the Earth was in 1908, when an asteroid believed to be between 45 and 70 metres in diameter levelled 80 million trees in an 830sq-mile area at Tunguska, in Siberia.
Josh said about 10 million tons of space rock hit the Earth each year, but most of it went unnoticed.
He said: "I tell people that if they want to find pieces of meteorite then they should run a magnet through their gutters.
"Most of the asteroids which come through the atmosphere burn up and end up as space dust."
The 2012 DA14 asteroid has an orbit which travels round the Sun and passes between Earth and Venus.
It is due to pass Earth again in 2087 – at a distance of about 10,000 miles.