On Friday, February 15, 2013, Asteroid 2012 DA14 will travel just 17,000 miles above the Earth - closer to our planet than the orbit of the communications satellite that broadcast the Super Bowl around the world. About half the size of a football field and with more than 100 times the energy impact of the nuclear bomb that fell on Hiroshima, DA14 will miss Earth this time around, but if it had impacted, this asteroid could have taken out any major metropolitan city on our planet.
The discovery of Asteroid DA14 was made by a small team of observers at La Sagra Observatory in Southern Spain, enabled with a grant provided by The Planetary Society.
“DA-14 is a wake-up call that hundreds of thousands of asteroids of this size, similar to the one that destroyed more than 2,000 square km in Tunguska, Siberia in 1908, are viable threats to Earth, yet less than 1% of these Near Earth Objects have been found,” said Bill Nye, CEO, The Planetary Society. “It also reminds us of the importance of public participation– individuals and small teams of observers – in the process of scientific discovery.”
Jaime Nomen led the team at La Sagra Observatory: “The discovery of DA-14 was made possible because we were able to purchase a new camera with a grant from The Planetary Society. As a result, we have introduced observing strategies designed to improve the probability of discovering asteroids moving at high angular speed – ones that larger surveys may have missed.”
The Planetary Society “Shoemaker grants” are awarded to amateur observers, observers in developing countries, and professional astronomers who, with seed funding, can greatly increase their programs' contributions to NEO research. The program, begun in 1997, is named for Gene Shoemaker, a highly respected leader in the study of impact structures, and an advocate for NEO discovery and tracking programs.
The Planetary Society supports several projects that are helping to find near Earth objects and test techniques that may allow humanity to deflect a NEO that is headed toward a potentially catastrophic impact. The Society is committed to planetary defense.
"Discovery, follow-up, and characterization of asteroids enabled by our Shoemaker grants is one of our most gratifying rewards,” says Bruce Betts, the organization's Director of Projects. “We want to help humanity avoid the world’s only preventable natural disaster. Astronomers like those at La Sagra Observatory are critical to that goal. Their discovery and this year's close approach will result in a scientific and planetary defense treasure trove of data.”
Asteroid DA-14 will fly across the sky at more than one Moon diameter per minute, and it will be observable from Europe, Australia, Asia or Africa through the use of binoculars or a small telescope.
“Our founder Carl Sagan wanted the Planetary Society to be a grassroots organization, with people all over the world supporting space exploration,” continued Nye. “As is evidenced by La Sagra’s use of the Shoemaker grant, we are realizing this grand vision.”
For detailed information on Asteroid 2012 DA14, Jaime Nomen and La Sagra Observatory, and the Planetary Society Shoemaker Grant Program, visit: http://planetary.org/asteroid2012da14
About The Planetary Society
The Planetary Society has inspired millions of people to explore other worlds and seek other life. With the mission to empower the world's citizens to advance space science and exploration, its international membership makes the non-governmental Planetary Society the largest space interest group in the world. Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray and Louis Friedman founded The Planetary Society in 1980. Bill Nye, a longtime member of The Planetary Society's Board, serves as CEO.