Not an actual asteroid. My rendering. (Excuse the fact that it looks a bit like a potato crossed with SpongeBob)
The flyby this Friday of asteroid 2012 DA14 will be close enough in cosmic terms for the earth to duck. The 150-feet wide asteroid will fly past within 17,200 miles (27,680 kilometers) of the earth, the closest an object of this size has come.
It is closer than the communications satellites which orbit at 22,200 miles (35,800 kms) and, among other things, direct your GPS devices. Asteroids do not need GPS devices. They just hurtle through space and if in the process they end up crashing into something, so be it.
NASA has said there is no prospect of the asteroid crashing into us despite its close orbit because its trajectory is clear. Nevertheless I have bought a crash helmet in case 2012 DA14 has it in for me individually. One can never tell with these rogue space objects and the grudges they hold.
Among the not-so-distant possibilities being considered by scientists is using such asteroids as convenient steppingstones to easier space travel. Think of them of as free celestial taxis that no one seems to hail so far. They do not need any fuel and manage to travel entirely because of natural gravitational and orbital forces. Landing a craft on such objects is not considered a fantastic task by any means.
Asteroids are like breadcrumbs remaining from the formation of planets and other bodies. You may also think of them as hangers-on or extras on a movie set where there are other more established stars who swagger around with a sense of defined destiny. Asteroids are mostly minor bodies which are harmless but can occasionally have a great nuisance value, particularly when they crash.
According to NASA, this particular asteroid was discovered last February by astronomers at the La Sagra Sky Survey program in southern Spain. The last flyby was fairly distant, seven times the distance to the moon (average 384,400 kms). This asteroid takes 368 days to orbit around the sun, almost as long as the earth. However, this flyby will change that. “This year’s is the closest approach, and is the closest the asteroid will come for at least three decades. But this encounter will shorten 2012 DA14’s orbital period to about 317 days,” NASA says.
“This passage of 2012 DA14 by Earth is a record close approach for a known object of this size. A few other known asteroids have flown by Earth even closer, but those asteroids were smaller. On average, we expect an object of this size to get this close to Earth about once every 40 years. An actual Earth collision by an object of this size would be expected much less frequently, about once every 1,200 years, on average,” it says.
Once you consider these numbers you begin to understand how everything in life is a matter of chance in a broad sense of the term. One struggles to make things orderly within that randomness. When 2012 DA14 returns next year I may have become a best-selling author with cash oozing out of shoe soles or I could be dead or in penury being humiliated on sidewalks or an obscure journalist with fractured earnings. Who the hell knows?