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Image: 2012 LZ1
NAIC / USRA
A radar image from the Arecibo Observatory taken in June 2012 shows another asteroid, 2012 LZ1, from a distance of 6 million miles (10 million kilometers).
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updated 2/4/2013 9:07:36 PM ET 2013-02-05T02:07:36

An asteroid will give Earth a historically close shave next week, but there's no chance that the space rock will slam into our planet on this pass, experts say.

The 150-foot-wide (45 meters) asteroid 2012 DA14 will zoom within 17,200 miles (27,700 kilometers) of our planet on Feb. 15, coming nearer than the ring of satellites in geosynchronous orbit. While the flyby will be the closest ever known in advance for such a large asteroid, there's no reason to retreat to the doomsday bunker.

"NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office can accurately predict the asteroid's path with the observations obtained, and it is therefore known that there is no chance that the asteroid might be on a collision course with Earth," officials at the space agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., wrote in a statement Friday (Feb. 1).

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"Nevertheless, the flyby will provide a unique opportunity for researchers to study a near-Earth object up close," the statement added. [ Asteroid 2012 DA14's Feb. 15 Flyby: Fact vs. Fiction (Video) ]

NASA will hold a press conference at 2 p.m. EST (1900 GMT) Feb. 7 to discuss the space rock's close flyby.

2012 DA 14 was discovered in February of last year by astronomers with the La Sagra Sky Survey in Spain. The near-Earth asteroid has recently been zipping around the sun once every 368 days, though next week's close pass will reduce its orbital period to 317 days, researchers said.

At its closest approach on Feb. 15, the space rock will be just 1/13th as far from Earth as the moon is. 2012 DA 14 will whiz by our planet quickly, zipping through space at about 17,400 mph (28,000 kph) as it makes its closest pass for at least the next 30 years.

The asteroid will present an intriguing target for skywatchers, becoming visible as a point of light through binoculars and small telescopes during the close encounter. The best observing will be from Eastern Europe, Asia and Australia, NASA officials said. (2012 DA 14 will have faded considerably by the time Earth's rotation brings the object into view for folks in the continental United States.)

Researchers at NASA and other institutions plan to take advantage of the flyby to learn more about 2012 DA14 and its orbit.

"Radar astronomers plan to take images of the asteroid about eight hours after closest approach using the Goldstone antenna in California's Mojave Desert, which is part of NASA's Deep Space Network," space agency officials wrote in Friday's statement.

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Several other known asteroids have given Earth an even closer shave than 2012 DA14 will, but those objects were all smaller. Asteroids of 2012 DA14's size probably make such close flybys once every 40 years and actually hit Earth every 1,200 years or so, researchers said.

Of course, other relatively large asteroids have probably zipped very close to Earth recently without being spotted. Astronomers have identified more than 9,000 near-Earth asteroids to date, but perhaps a million or more such space rocks are thought to exist.

If 2012 DA14 did strike our planet, it would likely cause serious damage on a local scale. An object of similar size flattened 800 square miles (2,000 square km) of forest when it exploded above Siberia's Podkamennaya Tunguska River in 1908.

Follow SPACE.com senior writer Mike Wall on Twitter@michaeldwall or SPACE.com @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook and Google+.

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Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

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  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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