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Feb. 15, 2013
CONTACT: K.E. Schwab

SRU students track asteroids, including 2012 DA 14 due today

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - If you are reading this, the asteroid, billed as half the size of a football field or as big at the White House, predicted to pass near Earth today did just that and there is no problem.

If you can't read this, because the asteroid hit...the experts were wrong.

The asteroid, formally called "2012 DA14" in scientific circles has an orbit that is well known "and won't hit the Earth this time," said Krishna Mukherjee, SRU assistant professor of physics and pre-engineering, who teaches SRU's astronomy classes. "But, we have three SRU physics students working on the possibility of asteroids striking Earth as part of a research project."

DA-14's orbital pass expected today near Earth, will be closer than the moon, and, in fact, will be closer than many of the satellites launched from Earth, NASA officials have said. The asteroid will be inside the ring of geosynchronous weather and communications satellites that obit Earth.

"It is a great chance to study asteroids, up close," she said. It will pass by at 2:24 p.m., eastern standard time and will be at a distance of about 17,200 miles travelling at 17,400 miles per hour - about one inch per minute if viewed from Earth. The asteroid will be less than 1/13th the distance to the moon. Experts say no interference with the International Space Station is expected as DA-14 travels south to north.

While large, DA-14 is not expected to be visible to the naked eye, Mukherjee said that a small telescope or good binoculars could make it visible from certain parts of the world. "By the time the asteroid is visible to resident of North America, it would be very faint and no longer an object readily viewed through a telescope because of its rapid movement away from Earth," she said."

The three SRU students investigating asteroid trajectories are, Dustin Schrecogost from Leechburg, Cory Dolbashian from Valley Forge and Floyd Hilty from Black Lick.

"We got interested in the project through our astronomy class with Dr. Mukherjee," Schrecogost said, "and we plan to present the results of our research at the annual Slippery Rock University Symposium for Student Research, Scholarship and Creative Achievement." The symposium is April 9 in the Smith Student Center.

"The group project, expected to be complete by April, is an 'Armageddon scenario," Schrecogost said. "We are trying to mathematically determine how you can get an approaching asteroid to miss the Earth. We are plotting the trajectory and trying to determine how much force would be needed from what distance to alter the trajectory and deflect the asteroid."

The three are writing a computer program to work out the details as variables are entered. The project fulfills Dolbashian's requirement for the independent study course in "Classical Mechanics" he is taking with Mukherjee.

"The simulation and results will be done for varying properties, including mass and velocity of the asteroid covering a wide range of scenarios," Schrecogost said.

The current asteroid was only spotted by skywatch experts last February, insufficient time to do anything about it had it been on a trajectory to hit the Earth, officials have said. An asteroid the size of DA-14 has the capability of causing serious damage depending on where it struck.

DA-14's orbit around the sun is set at 368 days, but the close encounter with Earth this year will affect the asteroid, shortening its orbit to 318 days, according to Asteroid Magazine. The Earth experiences a close encounter about every 40 years with a "collision by an object of this size once every 1,200 years, on average."

Bill Nye, the well-known television "Science Guy," calls the event "exciting science" and said DA-14 is about the size asteroid that created the "Great Crater" in New Mexico and the 1908 meteor that hit Siberia. He said it would miss the Earth by about a 15-minute difference.

An asteroid becomes a meteor when it enters the Earth's atmosphere and is a "meteorite" when it hits the ground.

Those interested may be able track the asteroid's progress at:

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