Sunday, February 24, 2013

Current Events: DA14

This was my fourth current events report. I enjoyed doing this over the winter break.

Check out the full report and video of me practicing below:


On Friday, February 15, 2013 DA14, a known asteroid, zoomed closer to earth than any other asteroid of similar size has ever come in recorded history. The asteroid is 150 ft. in diameter, which is half the size of a football field.

At 2:25 p.m. EST DA14 was at its closest point to the earth, when it was 17,200 miles above the surface of the Indian Ocean. That is closer than the weather and communications satellites in geosynchronous orbit, but not the GPS satellites in medium earth orbit. Luckily there were no impacts or collisions with any satellites.

Asteroids are small planet-like objects orbiting the Sun. Usually measuring anywhere between a few feet to several hundred miles in diameter, most asteroids are in the Asteroid Belt. Asteroids are thought to be remains from the solar system’s formation. While asteroids tend to stay within the asteroid belt, gravitational pulls from other planets and objects in space can sometimes push asteroids close to the orbit of other planets. Asteroids, including DA14, that are pushed close to the Earth’s orbit are known as Near Earth Asteroids.

DA14 was discovered in 2012 by LaSagra Observatory in southern Spain. At the time of its discovery, the asteroid's orbital period around the Sun was 368 days. Its close encounter with the Earth, however, will change this period to 317 days. According to NASA, this is the last time the asteroid will be this close to the Earth for the next 30 years.

Even though it was very close to the Earth, DA14 was hard to observe for two reasons. First, the asteroid moved at a very high speed at about 17,400 miles per hour. Second, the asteroid is so small that it was hard to detect without specialized equipment.

For regions in darkness DA14 should have remained visible until about midnight through good binoculars or a telescope. Many people celebrated the rare moment when DA14 was closest to Earth.

Making February 15 even rarer, earlier that morning a meteorite had exploded in earth’s atmosphere breaking some buildings and houses in Russia. A Spanish team had been the first to see this meteorite. Tracking this meteorite further proved this and DA14 were completely unrelated.

A meteor is like an asteroid except it zooms around freely. A meteorite is a meteor that crashes into a planet creating a crater. This is not as unlikely as it would seem because if a meteor gets to close it will be pulled by gravity towards the planet.

This raised scientists’ awareness to start thinking about issues such as what if a gigantic meteorite smashed into Earth. Many people have many different ideas but everybody agrees not to blow it up because then you would have a whole bunch of smaller meteorites zooming at Earth. A common idea is nudging a meteorite out of the way with a specially built space probe for ten years so it will miss.

Here are my other current events reports.