Today's super-close asteroid flyby should be a wakeup call, spurring humanity to keep better track of the millions of space rocks whizzing through Earth's neighborhood, some scientists say.
There's no chance the 150-foot-wide (45 meters) asteroid 2012 DA14 will hit Earth on its closest approach today (Feb. 15) at 2:24 p.m. EST (1924 GMT). But it will cruise within 17,200 miles (27,000 kilometers) of our planet, marking the closest encounter with such a large space rock that researchers have ever known about in advance.
Some scientists hope the flyby serves as a warning shot, reminding folks that Earth sits in a cosmic shooting gallery and that it's just a matter of time before we suffer a major impact -- unless we take action.
"This close approach could just as easily have been an impact," Dan Durda, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., wrote in a blog post Wednesday (Feb. 13).
"With many tens of thousands of undiscovered objects this size roaming our neighborhood, it's only a matter of time before one of them booms through our atmosphere rather than skating through our planet-circling constellation of satellites," added Durda, who also serves on the board of directors of the B612 Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to predicting and preventing devastating asteroid strikes. [Asteroid 2012 DA14's Flyby: Complete Coverage]
Durda's point was rammed home early Friday morning when a brilliant fireball exploded in the skies over Russia's Chelyabinsk region, which is about 930 miles (1,500 km) east of Moscow. The blast damaged hundreds of buildings and wounded perhaps 1,000 people, according to media reports.
Scientists think the Russian fireball was caused by an object weighing about 10 tons. For comparison, 2012 DA14 tips the scales at about 140,000 tons. The two space rocks are completely unrelated, NASA researchers said.