A meteor crashed yesterday in Russia’s Ural mountains, injuring at least 500 people and blowing out windows in nearby towns. And today, Asteroid 2012 DA14 will pass within a hair’s-breadth of the Earth — in galactic terms, at least — when it scoots by at a distance of 17,200 miles.
Scientists say there is no chance that the asteroid will strike our planet. Nevertheless, at 2:25 p.m. EST, the point of the asteroid’s closest approach, the nervous among us will be watching the live NASA feed, checking their watches, and peering anxiously at the skies, wondering if a computer somehow miscalculated at the 10th decimal point or if scientists really can’t determine, with complete precision, the flight path of a tumbling asteroid navigating through the complex interplay of gravitational forces of the Sun, Earth, the Moon, and other celestrial bodies in the inner solar system. Or, perhaps, they might wonder if Asteroid 2012 DA14 isn’t a bit capricious and miffed at having been given such an uninteresting moniker and might just decide to veer from its anticipated path to wreak havoc on the residents of Mother Earth and make a more lasting name for itself.
If 2:25 passes without disaster striking, they’ll briefly breath a sigh of relief before starting to worry about the next meteorite fly-by or some possible global epidemic or the risks of a newly discovered food-borne pathogen.
Me, I’ll be driving to and from Cleveland today. I won’t be thinking about Asteroid 2012 DA14, but I will be worrying about my fellow drivers heading north and south on the I-71 corridor. They’ll be a lot closer than 17,200 miles away, and a lot more likely to inflict injury, disaster, and chaos.