Whizzing Asteroid Turns Rocket Scientists' Heads

Whizzing Asteroid Turns Rocket Scientists’ Heads

International leaders in asteroid and comet research are gathering at the University of Central Florida in Orlando Friday, Feb. 15, for a special “viewing party” that will climax with asteroid 2012 DA14 zipping between Earth and orbiting communication satellites (within 14,000 miles of Earth).

The asteroid, the size of a city block, will squeeze by Earth’s atmosphere and the geostationary satellites orbiting the planet. It will be the closest fly by in history. To see animation click here .

Experts say there is no chance the asteroid will hit Earth — this time. But with more than 4,700 asteroids NASA has identified as potential threats to Earth, some as big as 16 football fields, these objects are getting a lot of attention.

Humberto Campins, a UCF physics professor who led the first team to discover water ice on an asteroid in 2010, says the asteroids provide clues to the early formation of the solar system and should interest the entire community because they can be hazards as well as resources.

Campins is working on NASA and European Space Agency missions launching in the next few years to recover asteroid samples

Should an asteroid be detected on a collision course with Earth, it will be critical to know its composition and structure in order to deflect it. The impact of a small asteroid like DA 14 would equal the destructive power of an atomic bomb. A larger asteroid could be catastrophic.

That’s why Campins and the planetary scientists at UCF organized this free Viewing Party and invited leaders in this asteroid research to speak to the public about the reality and myths of these ancient rocks on Feb. 15. UCF and the Florida Space Institute are sponsoring this event.

Confirmed speakers include Dr. Michael F. A’Hearn, the scientist who led NASA’s Deep Impact mission, which launched the first man-made object into the nucleus of a comet, and Dr. Harold Reitsema, a former NASA scientist who is part of the B612 Foundation’s  private effort to launch a telescope that will locate and track asteroids that could hit Earth. The scientists will talk about why asteroid research is so vital to Earth and the new NASA and private efforts to track them.

The public also will get a chance to see the fly-by through exclusive live feeds from telescopes in La Sagra and Tenerife, Spain, where the astronomers who first discovered DA 14 will be tracking it. Live feeds from Majorca and other observatories are also planned. Astrophysicist and asteroid expert Dr. Javier Licandro, of the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canaries in Tenerife, Spain, also will provide some commentary. Licandro and Campins regularly collaborate on research projects.

Members of the media are invited to attend UCF’s Asteroid Viewing Party from noon to 3:30 p.m. on Feb. 15.  Save the date and visit http://news.cos.ucf.edu beginning Nov. 15 for details and to register.