16 Feb 2013

Asteroid passes close to Earth

3:20 pm on 16 February 2013

An asteroid about 45 metres wide has passed closer to Earth than any other known object of its size.

The asteroid known as 2012 DA14 raced past the Earth at a distance of just 27,700 kilometres.

Its arrival was preceded by a damaging meteor event in Russia on Friday but the BBC reports that indications from the meteor's path suggest the two events are unrelated.

The meteor that exploded over central Russia sent fireballs crashing to earth, injured 1200 people as its shockwave shattered windows and damaged buildings.

The asteroid's closest approach was at 8.20am on Saturday (NZT). It passed directly over the eastern Indian Ocean, making for the best viewing in Eastern Europe, Asia and Australia.

But keen viewers everywhere used several live streams of the event on the internet, including a feed from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at NASA.

Cloudy conditions prevented most New Zealand astronomers getting a clear view of the phenomenon.

Auckland Astronomical Society president Grant Christie said an amateur astronomer in Gisborne saw the faint star-like object about 3am when it was about 100,000 kilometres from the Earth.

He said the astronomer, John Drummond, is likely to have been the only New Zealand astronomer to have glimpsed the space rock.

The asteroid orbits the Sun in 368 days, a period similar to Earth's year, but does not orbit in the same plane as the Earth.