Thursday, February 07, 2013

Visit of the asteroid 2012_DA14: Any chance of a spectacular display?

It would be rushing off at a speed of over 7 KM/second, less than 28,000 KM overhead. Its closest approach to the earth would be on Feb. 15 at approximately 19:24 UTC. My conversion says this would be approximately at 00:54 Hours on Feb 16 Indian Standard Time. I wonder if I should hunt for more information on where to look, what to expect etc. At a magnitude of 7.4 or so, I would need binoculars, and need to know exactly where to look. It would not be enough to know that it would come above the horizon at a point south east (as seen from Bangalore) and would travel northwest. It is believed to weigh about 130,000 metric tons. For more information, visit

I am undecided as yet about a serious effort to see the flyby; but let me share my thoughts. It would be easier if like-minded people got together and shared information. Amateur Astronomers of Bangalore, please let us know what you are doing!
I would not be struck dumb if a 7.4 magnitude body streaks by at about 8 KM/Sec. 28 KM above my head. Is there a chance of anything more spectacular? NASA refers to the object as if it is a single body. How do they know? Is it possible that it is not a monolith? Is it possible that the temperature variations it undergoes in the extreme cold of outer space cause it to crack, as rotation exposes different parts to the sun? Is there any rubble traveling with it? Is it possible that parts of this rubble are some distance from the center of gravity of DA14? In that case, can we see some kilogram-size objects following slightly different paths and entering the atmosphere?  Boy! Wouldn’t that be great!
A web-search shows that sky surveys for near-earth objects like this are getting better and better. I am sure another asteroid would come along soon enough – perhaps too soon for us to get ready for suitable action; for instance, to push the asteroid off course to avoid a collision. Wikipedia tells us that 2012_DA14 was discovered only on February 23, 2012. Visit
Suppose the wise men who follow up on these discoveries had told us on Feb 25, 2012 that a collision was certain. Would there have been time to do anything effective and safe enough? I think not! It requires little force to push a meteorite like 2012_DA14 off a collision course, as long as you apply the force early enough – that is long before the asteroid comes close to the earth. It would be best to build a few asteroid-movers and have them equally spaced around the earth’s orbit. Once an asteroid is detected on a collision course, we can compute the most efficient solution and command the appropriate asteroid-mover to start its work! We owe it to humanity to plan this project – at least plan! We can then discuss the risk-reward trade-off.  This will not be mere science! Politics is unavoidable. Every nation will want its hands on the steering wheels of the asteroid-movers!
Some experiments, at the other ends, could even be good student-initiated projects. Please visit

In case you wish to hunt out more information on our asteroid DA14, visit the following web addresses:

Srinivasan Ramani

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