Asteroid Flyby of 2012 DA14 to Pass Earth on Feb. 15

Astronomers are anxiously watching a small asteroid as its orbit prepares to take the space body closer than any previously passing object since near-earth objects started being tracked over a decade ago.

The asteroid, known 2012 DA14, was first discovered by a group of novice star gazers in Spain last year who then got in contact with government officials.

While the asteroid will not break any size records given that it is roughly 150 feet in diameter, the projected orbit has the space rock coming within 17,000 miles of Earth. That is closer than the orbit of geostationary satellites that travel around the Earth 24,000 miles above the surface.

Astronomer Donald Yeomans, with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., told reporters during a conference call that there was no need to panic because "no Earth impact is possible."

Still, scientists maintain that even with the relatively small size of the asteroid, if it were to impact Earth, it would not produce an extinction level event, but it would cause widespread destruction.

"Although they wouldn't (cause) a global catastrophe if they impact the Earth, they still do a lot of regional destruction," Lindley Johnson, with the Near-Earth Object Observations Program at NASA, told Reuters.

He explained that 2012 DA14 is currently traveling through space at 8 miles per second and the kinetic energy produced by an object of that size and at that speed would impact with the same force as roughly 2.4 million tons of dynamite. For perspective, a similar-sized impact in Siberia occurred in 1908 and produced an impact area over 800 square miles.

Surprisingly, the Earth is constantly hit with objects every day, but many are too small to be detected.

"Space rocks hit the Earth's atmosphere on a daily basis. Basketball-size objects come in daily. Volkswagen-size objects come in every couple of weeks," Yeomans said.

The asteroid is expected to pass by earth on Feb. 15.