Big asteroid misses Earth on same day that little meteor slams into Russia

MONTREAL – An asteroid about half the size of a football field safely brushed past the Earth — as predicted, and on schedule, Friday.

Images of Asteroid 2012 DA14 taken by the Gingin Observatory in Australia and broadcast on NASA TV show a small white streak moving across the clear night sky.

The asteroid was projected to come within of 27,600 kms of the planet which was close enough to pass inside the ring of satellites that circle the Earth.

The flypast took place at around 2:25 p.m. Eastern time Friday.

It was an improbable bit of timing.

The big asteroid is not to be confused with the smaller meteor that actually did hit Earth on Friday, causing a fair bit of damage in Russia’s Chelyabinsk region.

The European Space Agency, in a post on its Twitter account, said its experts had determined there was no connection between the meteor and the asteroid.

Phil Langill, a University of Calgary physics professor, called it “a funny coincidence” that the two space events happened so close together.

“It does conjure up the thought that maybe one was a little companion of the other,” the director of the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory said in an interview Friday. “But then again, this is asteroids in space and they come randomly toward the Earth and this could have just been a coincidence.”

Even before Asteroid 2012 DA14 passed, scientists had offered assurances that humanity need not have feared a collision with the giant rock.

Peter Brown, a scientist at Western University in London, Ont., said what made it unique was its size. It was also the closest known flyby by an asteroid.

“Things of this size get this close to the Earth or closer only about once every 40 years … so it’s an unusual event.”

“And we can say that there’s a very low chance — maybe one chance in 300,000 — that it will impact (the Earth) in the next 100 years or so,” added Brown.

He also said that, for an asteroid like 2012 DA14 to collide with any sort of man-made satellite, “it really is (as unlikely as) winning the lottery three times in a row.”

As it turned out, the big rock wound up being upstaged by a little rock.

In Russia, a meteor streaked across the sky above the Ural Mountains, causing sharp explosions amid reports that as many as 1,000 people were injured, mostly due to broken glass.

Fragments of the meteor fell in a thinly populated area of the Chelyabinsk region, about 1,500 kms east of Moscow.