PARIS, March 18 (IANS): A newly-discovered asteroid, roughly the size of a soccer field, is going to whiz past our planet at just 24,000 km, a mere whisker in cosmic terms.
An amateur team discovered the unusual asteroid, dubbed 2012 DA14, Feb 22. Its small size and orbit meant that it was spotted only after it had flown past Earth at about seven times the distance of the Moon. It is expected to revisit almost exactly a year later Feb 15, 2013.
"This is a safe distance, but it is still close enough to make the asteroid visible in normal binoculars," says Detlef Koschny, who tracks near-earth objects in European Space Agency's (ESA) Space Situational Awareness (SSA) office.
The asteroid was discovered by the La Sagra Sky Survey observatory, in the southeast of Spain, near Granada, at an altitude of 1,700 metres, one of the darkest, least light-polluted locations on the European mainland, according to an ESA statement.
The team used several automated telescopes to scan the sky, and the discovery came somewhat serendipitously after they decided to search areas of the sky where asteroids are not usually seen.
"A preliminary orbit calculation shows that 2012 DA14 has a very Earth-like orbit with a period of 366.24 days, just one more day than our terrestrial year, and it 'jumps' inside and outside of the path of Earth two times per year," says Jaime Nomen, one of its discoverers.