By Dan Vergano, USA TODAY
NASA observers report that a sizable asteroid, some 13 stories tall, will fly harmlessly by Earth next week, and then head far way from our planet.
The asteroid, 2012 D14, will come within 17,100 miles of Earth on Feb. 15 at 2:24 p.m. ET, a record close-approach for an asteroid this size. And then we likely won't see it again for at least a century, after Earth's gravity slingshots the space rock onto a shorter orbit that takes it closer to the sun.
"No Earth impact is possible," said asteroid expert Donald Yeomans of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, Calif. Instead, the 17,450 mile-per-hour close encounter will pass between the higher orbits of communication satellites and the lower orbits of navigational Global Positioning Satellites (GPS). Any impact with a satellite is, "highly unlikely," Yeomans says.
The fly-by will not be visible to the naked eye because the asteroid is relatively small for a space rock, but it will be viewable through telescopes from Eastern Europe to Australia. Such a close call typically happens once every four decades, Yeomans says. Something the size of 2012 D14 hits Earth about once every 1,200 years, triggering a blast similar to the 1908 Tunguska event that flattened trees for hundreds of square miles in Siberia.
NASA supports a network of asteroid-warning telescopes that have detected about 95% of the most dangerous, much larger, asteroids near Earth. A Science magazine report out Thursday said that the most famous giant asteroid blast, the Chicxulub impact that marked the end of the age of dinosaurs, happened 66 million years ago.