SPRINGFIELD (WGGB) — The news kept amateur astronomers around the globe buzzing all day… an event some are calling historic.
Its official name is asteroid 2012 DA14, a tiny dot on NASA’s live feed moving across a dark screen. But that speck is actually a boulder half the size of a football field.
“It’s above most of the satellites but below the geosynchronous satellites so it is a pretty close call for a large rock 150 feet across,” explained Richard Sanderson, the curator of Physical Science at the Springfield Science Museum.
And in case you get confused, which can be easy when dealing with space, that large rock is an asteroid until it hits the atmosphere… at which point it becomes a meteor… and finally after slamming into earth, it’s called a meteorite.
“These all the same things. It just depends on whether it’s in space or on the earth or plunging through the atmosphere,” said Sanderson.
But never fear, scientists say there was no chance this one was going to hit us. Though, it did come awfully close. While the asteroid is a near miss in astronomical terms, in practical terms it’s a complete miss for all of us here in the United States. That’s because the flyby was during the day.
“Even in the other hemisphere where it will be night-time when it happens, it’s going to be a pretty faint object,” said Sanderson. At its closest at 2:24 this afternoon, 2012 DA14 skimmed by at just over 17,000 miles from our surface. That’s historic because it marks the closest approach of something so big that astronomers knew about well in advance.
“It’s exciting and you know,” said Sanderson. “These things happened in the past but today we have better technology and we can detect them so we are aware of them.”
Aware and hopefully ready if the next close call is too close for comfort.
Sanderson says there’s another big event coming up at the end of the year – what some astronomers are cautiously calling ‘the comet of the century’.
In November or December, the comet ‘Ison’ will make an appearance and possibly be visible during the day.