Observing the rock 2012 DA14 flying past the Earth on 16 February 2013

The path of asteroid 2012 DA14

The path of asteroid 2012 DA14 across the south-west sky as seen from Sydney on the morning of Saturday 16 February 2013. The times indicated are in AEDT while the positions with relation to the horizon are calculated for 5:00 am. Diagram Nick Lomb

On the morning of 16 February 2013 (Australian time) 2012 DA14, a piece of space rock the size of a large city building, will hurtle past the Earth at a speed of about 28,000 km per hour. Its closest distance to the surface of the Earth will be about 27,700 km, which is closer than any other similar object in modern times. That closest approach is within the paths of the geosynchronous communication satellites that circle at 35,800 km above the equator. However, there is no likelihood of 2012 DA14 hitting the Earth and little chance of a collision with a satellite.

An illustration showing how 2012 DA14 will pass by the Earth and its system of artificial satellites

An illustration showing how 2012 DA14 will pass by the Earth and its system of artificial satellites. Courtesy NASA

It will be possible to see and photograph this rare close approach, but from Sydney it will be a little tricky. As the rock is heading for its closest approach rendezvous at 6:26 am AEDT and brightening as it comes closer, the Sydney sky is also brightening with the coming of dawn and sunrise. Any view of the space rock or asteroid is likely to be lost after nautical twilight at 5:34 am when the object’s predicted brightness is 8.2 mag (see discussion on magnitudes below). At closest approach, which almost coincides with sunrise in Sydney, the prediction is for a relatively bright 6.9 mag.

Those who fancy a trip to Adelaide or even to Perth will have a better opportunity to see the flypast at its closest for the Sun rises later there. Of course, as usual with astronomical events the best viewing is from a dark sky site, away from city lights.

For those not familiar with the magnitude scale used by astronomers, it is a measure of the brightness of stars and other objects in the sky. It works in reverse to what you may expect in that the fainter a star the greater its magnitude. Venus, for example, can be magnitude -4, the brightest star has a magnitude of about -1, the faintest star visible from a suburban location maybe magnitude 4, the faintest star visible from a dark location maybe magnitude 6 and with binoculars from a dark sky magnitude 9 maybe visible.

Those in a dark sky should be able to see 2012 DA14 with a pair of binoculars just before dawn. From Sydney suburbs a Go To telescope could be sent to the exact celestial coordinates of the object courtesy of JPL’s Horizons service:

4:00 am AEST RA 10 08 34.75 Dec -76 18 35.2
4:30 am AEST RA 10 29 03.10 Dec -69 26 18.5
5:00 am AEST RA 10 43 14.02 Dec -59 11 15.1
5:30 am AEST RA 10 53 41.53 Dec -43 38 41.4
6:00 am AEST RA 11 01 43.36 Dec -21 21 32.2

For most people though the best way to attempt observation is to set up a camera on a tripod, or better still, a tracking mount pointing in the region of the sky below the Southern Cross and take time exposures during the period between 5:00 and 5:30 am from Sydney (or until local nautical twilight at places to the west of Sydney). If the exposures are long enough the space rock may appear as a faint streak longer than the shorter streaks from stars.

The observations and imaging may not work, but it is still worth trying if the sky is clear. It is a long wait until the next such close pass that we know about, which is that of the asteroid Apophis on 14 April 2029, again in the morning sky. What have you to lose? Only a little bit of sleep!

Update 12 February 2013: the time of closest approach to Sydney is at 6:14 am AEDT when the asteroid is 30,678 km away from the city.

24 responses to “Observing the rock 2012 DA14 flying past the Earth on 16 February 2013

  • I have a reflection about yesterday’s asteroid viewing in Sydney. I live at Camden NSW and the sky at 4.15am was so clear you could see so many stars, it was amazing. I did observe the asteroid and was excited – this was about 4.30-4.45am. I had just put my binoculars down and was looking up at the Southern Cross when all of a sudden a bright meteorite shot out of nowhere. It was directly under the Southern Cross and moved directly south before disappearing. This meteorite was incredibly bright, like a flare but so much brighter. Did anyone else see it? I have been wondering if this was actually the meteorite that hit Russia? Maybe not because of time difference, but this was the brightest meteorite I have ever seen and quite spectacular for that moment in time! Truly amazing!

    • Hello Jan. I am pleased to hear that you managed to see the asteroid – you must have a nice dark sky out at Camden. You did well to also see a bright meteor, but that had nothing to do with the asteroid impact in Russia as that happened more than 12 hours earlier on the other side of the world.

    • > Yes I saw it too! It was very bright without any binoculars or telescope. And I have taken some photos. Some wobbly ones as I was excited and worried about trying to keep it in frame and it had been drizziling before and my camera was not set properly after taking it all back out again, and when the clouds cleared, I saw this bright ‘thing’ coming from the West. The time on my photos says 5.12am on February 16th.

        • I’ve just checked my camera clock and yes my camera clock was wrong so I saw the asteroid 2012 DA14 in Sydney at 6.12am!!!>

          • Hello Rozainah. I am really very sorry to have to tell you this, but the asteroid was never bright enough to be seen by the unaided eye. Binoculars or a telescope would have been necessary to see it, preferably from a dark-sky location. By 6:12 am the sky in Sydney would have been too bright to see the object even with good optical aids and from a favourable location. I can only guess that the ‘bright thing’ that you saw was the planet Venus and you were looking east instead of west.

          • ok I think I better find my original photos and check out the real time. Jan said she put her binoculars down and saw something bright. Did she use a telescope? Did she see with unaided eye? I’m so confused now as to what I saw. The sky was still dark and I was using remote shootings on the mac connected to the Canon. So the Canon time was wrong but the mac time was correct. And if that is the case, the real time was 5.12am….And the object was moving very fast and was very bright and definitely not a plane. Now I’m doubting myself!> Will have to check my mac when I get home to find the original photos. Thanks for your reply Nick.

          • found the originals on my drive and the time was 4.12am from the Canon and therefore the real time was 5.12am>

          • There are lots of things up in the sky Rozainah! After putting her binoculars down Jan saw a bright meteor that had nothing to do with the asteroid. While the ‘bright thing’ that you saw coming from the west through the south-west and then south-east at around 5:12 am was the International Space Station. You could have waved to the astronauts up there!

          • Hi Nick, yep I thought it might be the ISS as I did check last night from the NASA website.

            But you said to Jan
            “Hello Jan. I am pleased to hear that you managed to see the asteroid – you must have a nice dark sky out at Camden. You did well to also see a bright meteor, but that had nothing to do with the asteroid impact in Russia as that happened more than 12 hours earlier on the other side of the world.”

            I know it has nothing to do with the Russian one. I think Jan might be referring it to the Asteroid 2012 DA14, like me. So did she see a meteor? Or a satellite?

          • Hello once again Rozainah. Jan said that she saw the asteroid though her binoculars out at Camden. Afterwards she saw a meteor (she actually said meteorite, but meant a meteor), which is the trail due to a tiny piece of space dust burning up in the atmosphere above us. These happen all the time, you just need to look for a while from a place with a dark sky. That had no connection with the asteroid or the 17-metre wide rock that hit the atmosphere over Russia.

          • > Thanks Nick for your help. I understand now. lol about waving to the astronauts! I must admit, it’s the first time I’ve ever seen a satellite that bright! There’s so much to see and learn. Thanks again Nick, just sad that I didn’t see the asteroid in the end.

    • Hello Belinda. Sorry I could not get back to you in time – I was too busy trying to photograph the asteroid myself. All you had to do was subtract half an hour from the times on the diagram in the post to allow for the difference in time zones.

  • Will this harm any one or it will just past and nothing will happen. It seems as if there’s much on this earth that we don’t know of. Last December 2012 something was expected to happen but then to my surprice I am still alive… Is Education or civilization a problem to me, the more I learn or discover something then that paticular this gives me stress.

    • Hello Tumelo. The asteroid 2012 DA14 passed the Earth safely, as predicted, without causing any harm. However, the Russian impact a few hours earlier is a good warning that asteroid impacts can and do occur from time to time. Impacts of the size of the Russian one, fortunately, are regarded as once-a-century events.

  • Here on the northern end of the Sunshine Coast in Qld, we had early rain that cleared in time, but unfortunately there were still very light misty clouds occasionally passing across the path, so I wasn’t able to get a sighting. But being very new to all of this, I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking for, which didn’t help.

    • Hello Jenny. You jumped the gun! You looked a day early as the asteroid is passing Earth on the morning of Saturday 16 February 2013 (Australian time). Please note that it will not be easy to see from anywhere, especially Queensland. You will need a clear and dark sky and a good pair of binoculars. Look between 4:00 am and 4:30 am AEST about half-way up the south-west sky. You will be searching for a faint dot slowly moving with respect to the stars. Good luck!

    • oh dear, what a silly sausage I am 🙂 but I doubt I’ll be lucky enough to get another clear morning as rain is predicted for the rest of the weekend.

    • Hello Mike. From Brisbane and the surrounding regions the asteroid will be passing in the south-west about half-way up the sky. The best time to search for it with a good pair of binoculars is between 4:00 and 4:30 am AEST. Unfortunately, the sky will have brightened enough by about 4:30 am to hide the object just as it would have been starting to be bright enough to be easily seen through the binoculars. People in Perth are much better placed on this occasion.

  • Hello Anthony. You are fortunate to be in Perth as you should get a better view of the asteroid. Yes, subtract three hours from the timings and ignore the discussion regarding twilight as it will only be 3:26 am WST when 2012 DA14 is making its closest approach. Look to the right or west of the Southern Cross. From a dark site the moving asteroid should be visible through binoculars otherwise try wide-field time exposures, as suggested in the post, around the time of closest approach.

  • What have I to lose? I’ll be in Perth. Do I subtract three hours from these timings? Do I look roughly in the same direction? Thanks.

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