Space scientists at NASA have an eye on asteroid 2012 DA14. Why? The 45-meter-wide space rock is expected to come extremely close to Earth next year--on Feb. 15 to be exact--and just might take out a satellite in the process.
The asteroid will pass by satellites in geostationary orbit about 35,800 kilometers (22,245 miles) above the equator, reportedly putting a communications satellite at risk of being hit.
"That's very unlikely, but we can't rule it out," Paul Chodas, a planetary astronomer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told National Geographic. "The orbit for 2012 DA14 is currently very Earthlike, which means it will be very close to Earth on a regular basis."
But other than the small possibility of smashing a satellite, the asteroid poses no serious threat. It has a tiny 0.033 percent--or 1 in 3,030--chance of Earth impact, according to data on NASA's website.
The space rock should, however, offer some cool skywatching. Good binoculars or a telescope are needed to view the flyby since the asteroid will appear faint to the naked eye.
"Next year it will be nice to watch through a pair of binoculars, but there is nothing to worry about," Dr. Gerhard Drolshagen, a near-Earth object observer from the European Space Agency's Space Situational Awareness office, told the Press Association. "In future times the possibility of a collision cannot be completely excluded. It is highly unlikely, but the chance is greater than zero."
In this oblique view, the path of near-Earth asteroid 2012 DA14 is seen passing close to Earth on Feb. 15, 2013.
If asteroid 2012 DA14 were to hit Earth, the impact would release the rock's energy of about 2.4 megatons (so think of an explosion around that same size--boom!)
The asteroid was discovered by the La Sagra observatory in Spain, and isn't the only rock on NASA's radar. In observing asteroid activity, researchers recently identified about 4,700 near Earth that are "potentially hazardous" if they strike our planet.