Lucky women the world over will no doubt be sporting diamond rings on the day after Valentine’s Day, or as some like to call it, a rock.
This Valentine’s Day, Mother Earth gets a rock of her own: The universe is flinging an asteroid that will whizz past the planet inside the orbits of weather and communications satellites on February 15. Astronomers are all abuzz over this space rock, which will blow by at a mere 17,000 miles above the planet’s surface. (Satellites synchronized to Earth’s orbit, known as geosynchronous satellites, are typically 22,000 miles from us.)
Rather than being a cause for worry, though, the flyby affords a great opportunity, NASA said.
“NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office can accurately predict the asteroid's path with the observations obtained, and it is therefore known that there is no chance that the asteroid might be on a collision course with Earth,” the space agency said in a statement. “Nevertheless, the flyby will provide a unique opportunity for researchers to study a near-Earth object up close.”
This asteroid, half the length of a football field, is the closest a space rock has ever come to Earth—that we know of. Scientists have only been watching for them since the 1990s. Nevertheless, NASA said in a statement from its Near Earth Object Program, the unromantically named 2012 DA14 is one of nearly 10,000 so-called near-Earth objects that have rocketed past Mother Earth in that time.
The asteroid "is an object that's extremely interesting because it actually passes within many of the satellites that are in orbit around the Earth," said Don Yeomans, who heads the Near Earth Object Program, to Space.com. Yet it did come close enough to cause the NASA program to file the asteroid’s projected flight path with satellite providers, he said, just so they could make sure the orbits would not intersect with the boulder.
Its closest approach will be Friday afternoon at 2:24 p.m. Eastern Time, Reuters reported. It will shoot by at eight miles per second. Yeomans called it one for the record books—only about once every 40 years does an object this large (150 feet wide, to be exact) pass this close, and only once in 1,200 years would something like this actually hit.