Got an asteroid heading our way

This may be the first time you’re reading the words 2012 DA14, but we’re pretty sure it won’t be the last.

2012 DA14 is the name assigned to a 150-foot wide meteor that Spanish astronomers discovered last month and was confirmed by other astronomers.

NASA’s published data shows that on February 15, 2013, 2012 DA14 will pass very close to Earth — astronomically speaking.

On that potentially fateful day, NASA close approach data is predicting 2012 DA14 will come within 0.000186 astronomical units of planet Earth. One astronomical unit is the mean distance between the Earth and sun.

This works out to just over 17,000 miles separating us from a pretty serious piece of space junk.

How close is that? Well, lunar orbit is about 238,000 miles, so a lot closer than that.

Right around 22,000 miles is geosynchronous orbit used by weather and communication satellites. Of which there are tons.

If anything close to a collision actually occurs, plenty of satellites are high enough the air to be able to look down on the action. In other words, we could watch from above as any drama unfolds.

SFBay has assembled animations from the NASA website showing the proximity of the Earth’s orbit to that of 2012 DA14. Though huge distances are vastly compressed in the animation, the crossing of the paths is unmistakable and chilling.

Not only that, just hours after its potential brush with Earth, 2012 DA14 is predicted to have a close call with the moon. At an estimated distance of about 250,000 miles, it’s more than 10 times the predicted close call with Earth. But still far closer than the asteroid has come before on prior orbits.

Really smart people with powerful brains, telescopes and computers seem to not be panicking about this. Instead, they seem to have predicted little more than an interesting observable event in the night sky.

So we’ll remain calm as we remind you of the mysterious Tunguska event in 1908, when hundreds of square miles of trees were flattened in the Siberian wilderness by what is now thought to have been an asteroid of — you guessed it — just about the same size as 2012 DA14.

Close calls aren’t all that unusual. Last June 2011 MD came within 11,000 miles of Earth. But such a late discovery of a potentially perilous object has to raise questions about just how much other stuff is out there we haven’t seen coming.