The small near-Earth asteroid 2012 DA14 will pass very close to the Earth on February 15, 2013. It will be so close that it will pass inside the ring of geosynchronous weather and communications satellites,which is located about 35,800 kilometers (22,200 miles) above the equator.
NASA's NEO 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 the Earth. Nevertheless, the fly-by will provide a unique opportunity for researchers to study a near-Earth object up close.
At its closest, the asteroid will be only about 1/13th of the distance to the Moon. The asteroid will fly by our planet quite rapidly, at a speed of about 7.8 kilometers/second (17,400 miles/hour) in a south-to-north direction with respect to the Earth.
Even though 2012 DA14 is coming remarkably close, it will still only appear as a point of light in the biggest of optical telescopes because of its small size. Based on its brightness, astronomers estimate that it is only about 45 meters (150 feet) across. It will brighten only to magnitude 7.5, too faint to be seen with the naked eye but easily visible in a good set of binoculars or a small telescope.
The best viewing location for the closest approach will be Indonesia. Eastern Europe, Asia and Australia are also well situated to see the asteroid around its closest approach. But, by the time the Earth rotates enough for observers in the continental United States to have a chance to see the asteroid, it will have receded and faded to about 11th magnitude. Radar astronomers plan to take images of the asteroid about 8 hours after closest approach using the Goldstone antenna.
This passage of 2012 DA14 by the Earth is a record close approach for a known object of this size. A few other known asteroids have flown by the Earth even closer, but those asteroids were smaller. On an average, we expect an object of this size to get this close to the 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 1200 years.