On Friday, Asteroid 2012 DA14 passed closer to earth than any known asteroid in history. At almost 50 meters across, this piece of planetary debris is larger than a NASA space shuttle and weighs approximately 130,000 tons.
Astronomers and hobbyists have been following the massive projectile, anticipating its arrival in our planetary orbit. This recent pass was the closest the object will likely ever come to Earth. With the help of Earth’s gravitational influence, the asteroid’s orbit around the sun will be shortened to a period of 317 days, from 368. Meaning, next time it makes a “close pass”, it will do so by about 1 million miles.
With the distraction of such a dynamic event, it is easy to see how skywatchers missed the prediction of a much smaller, unnamed object that impacted Russia, also on Friday. NASA scientists asserted that they could not have predicted that the meteoroid was on a collision course with Earth, because of its small size.
The meteor that made an appearance in Russia on Friday was about 2 meters across, tipped the cosmic scale at about 10 tons. A featherweight, to be sure. It broke off of some asteroid, but not 2012 DA14 anytime recently. It came from another direction and it was what could be called a coincidence that both the asteroid and the meteoroid came into our lives both on the 15th day of February.
A meteor is a fragment of an asteroid. An asteroid? Left-over pieces of planetary material that, orbiting the sun since the time of planetary formation. So, somewhere in Russia, there are ten new tons of matter. Has it come home at last, after some 55 million years traveling? Or have we taken on a wayward stranger, some runaway from Mercury, Venus or Saturn?
Does it make a difference? When Asteroid 2012 DA14 pulled us ever so slightly from our center, if only for a moment. That this infinitesimally small foreign object laying frozen somewhere in Russia is now ours. If we go by our theory, that even the smallest things can make a difference, then yes. Something happened here (and this type of something happens every 10 years or so). For science, perhaps the moment has passed. For us? Is it just beginning?