This image shows a close-up view of Eros, an asteroid with an orbit that takes it somewhat close to Earth, though not nearly as close as 2012 DA14 will be on Friday. Image courtesy of NASA/JHUAPL On Friday, February 15, astronomers will get an unusually good look at a near-Earth asteroid called 2012 DA14. It will be the first time a known object of this size will come this close to Earth---a mere 8 percent the distance between us and our moon. The asteroid, which measures 150 feet across, was first spotted by astronomers when it zoomed by Earth this time last year. This asteroid's fly-bys occur about once a year since its orbit around the sun is very similar to our own. There's no chance that the asteroid will collide with Earth but it will come pretty close. At its nearest point, there will only be 17,200 miles between us and the asteroid. It will buzz below our geosynchronous weather and communication satellites, but that's still a ways above the bulk of our equipment floating in space, including the International Space Station. If you want to see the asteroid as it approaches, your naked eye will unfortunately not be enough. You'll need to employ your trusty telescope, and even then the asteroid will just be a bright spot in the sky, traveling through your viewfinder at 17,400 miles an hour. Look for it at 2:24 p.m. EST, heading north. So how rare is such an occurrence? NASA says 2012 DA14 won't be making a close call like this for another thirty years. On average, asteroids of this size zip by every forty years or so. And once every 1,200 years, an asteroid like this is expected to actually hit the Earth. That gives us some time to stock up on canned goods.
Diagram showing Asteroid 2012 DA14's passage by the Earth on February 15, 2013. Image courtesy of NASA/JPL