Asteroid 2012 DA14 is scheduled to whiz past our planet with a comfortable 17,000 miles of clearance. So why all the gloom and doom?
NASA/JPL Near-Earth Object Program Office
Asteroid 2012 DA14 is making headlines this week, despite the fact that the "incoming" space rock, as it has been described, definitely won't hit Earth.
The 150-foot-wide asteroid will pass within 17,000 miles (27,000 kilometers) of us next February. That's nearer than the orbits of some geosynchronous satellites, and the closest shave of a mid-size asteroid ever predicted before the flyby has actually occurred. But even so, NASA assures the world that there is no chance of 2012 DA14 hitting Earth next year. Zero, zip, zilch.
Why, then, all the terror about this unthreatening space rock? And why the recent doom and gloom about another asteroid, called 2011 AG5 — a football-field-size rock that NASA says will almost certainly not collide with the planet in 2040? Don Yeomans, head of the Near-Earth Object Observations Program at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, blames the upsurge in asteroid panic on two main factors.
"One problem is that the Internet is wide open to anyone to say anything," Yeomans told Life's Little Mysteries. In the past, claims about asteroids were written up by scientists and submitted to peer-reviewed journals, a critical process that "would filter out nonsense," he said. "If something was published, it was reliable."