Nation

Asteroid not too close for comfort

WASHINGTON — A close encounter of the rocky kind is set for Feb. 15 when an office-building-size asteroid will speed past the earth faster than a bullet and closer than some communications and GPS satellites.

It will be the nearest recorded brush with a space rock so large, NASA scientists said Thursday.

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The good news: There is no chance of an impact. At its closest, asteroid 2012 DA14 will pass 17,000 miles above the earth.

The bad news: A million other potentially dangerous — and unknown — city-killing space rocks are out there, and one of them could be on a collision course with earth. Critics say NASA and other space agencies are not doing enough to scan for these threats.

‘‘It’s like Mother Nature sending a warning shot across our bow,’’ said Don Yeomans, who tracks asteroids for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, ­Calif.

Satellite operators said they were monitoring the asteroid but that they expected it to safely cruise through a belt of satellites some 23,000 miles up.

‘‘We’re watching the situation but there’s not a giant concern,’’ said Alex Horwitz, spokesman for Intelsat, which operates some 50 communications satellites.

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The Air Force, meanwhile, is leaving the tracking to NASA.

An astronomer in Spain spied the asteroid a year ago. Small, dim, and speedy, it was a ‘‘slippery target’’ as it moved across a background of stars, said Jaime Nomen of the La Sagra Observatory in southern Spain.

NASA-funded scientists then ran the numbers: The asteroid was about 150 feet wide, and its closest approach will occur at 2:24 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on Friday.

Washington Post

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