Feb 142013

Asteroid that could do as much damage as 1,000 atomic bombs will whizz past tomorrow (and could knock out your TV signal)

Just before 7.30pm tomorrow, a 150ft wide chunk of space rock will whizz past us in the closest shave since records began.   If it hit the planet, it could wipe out a city the size of London and do as much damage as 1,000 of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima.

Nasa has stressed that ‘no Earth impact is possible’ – but scientists say there is a small chance that TV signals may be affected.   The asteroid will cut through the orbit of some satellites used for weather forecasting and for satellite phones and television.   Mobile phones won’t be affected as they rely on land-based masts and cables.

Asteroid 2012 DA14 was discovered last year by a Spanish dentist turned amateur astronomer and has been closely tracked ever since.   Hurtling through space at speeds of five miles a minute, eight times as fast as a speeding bullet, it will come within 17,000 miles of Earth at 7.24pm tomorrow.

Astronomy expert Daniel Brown, of Nottingham Trent University, said: ‘In astronomical terms, that’s very close.’   Although the asteroid won’t be visible with the naked eye, it should be possible to see it with binoculars.

Dr Brown recommends looking towards the north-east horizon around two hours after sunset.   He added: ‘This will give us the ideal opportunity to learn more about asteroids.’

‘If we want to protect ourselves from possible impacts in the future, we need to understand how we can manipulate them.

‘That wouldn’t be through the Hollywood option of blowing them out of the sky but by nudging them slightly out of the way.

‘We can also find out what sort of resources are in there.  There are at least two projects now talking about trying to mine asteroids for precious metals and rocket fuels.’

He added asteroids the size of 2012 DA14 race past the Earth around once in every 40 years – but there is only an impact every 100,000 to 200,000 years.

‘Humanity and civilisations have survived these over and over,’ he said.   Celestial mining firm Deep Space Industries (DSI) has calculated that the massive asteroid,  could contain resources worth £125billion.