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Science in Mind

Asteroid on track for relatively close pass on Friday

Post-Valentine’s Day close encounter

A rendering depicting the asteroid 2012 DA14 passing near the Earth on Feb. 15, 2013.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

A rendering depicting the asteroid 2012 DA14 passing near the Earth on Feb. 15, 2013.

On Friday afternoon, the earth will have a close encounter with object 2012 DA 14, an asteroid a little less than half a football field in diameter. This will be the closest call with an asteroid so far in 2013, as the object will hurtle by about 17,000 miles from the earth’s surface.

Timothy Spahr, director of the Minor Planet Center at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said the asteroid was discovered last year by a team of using a Spanish telescope to track near-Earth objects that could pose a threat to satellites.

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Spahr, at his office in Cambridge, receives reports of near-earth asteroids that are discovered, staying alert for ones that could smash into earth in the short-term.

“This one is a close approach for a known object this size — the biggest, closest approach [ever] for something this size,” Spahr said.

He added, however, that although it was interesting, there was nothing to worry about.

Close encounters like this one can be a teachable moment — something to spread a little rational thinking in the face of so many movies that have depicted asteroids that threaten to end life as we know it.

The asteroid will pass by at 2:25 p.m. on Friday, and in parts of the world where it is night, it will be visible through a backyard telescope.

“I sleep at night, and you should, too,” Spahr said.

Carolyn Y. Johnson can be reached at cjohnson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @carolynyjohnson.
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