Google has taken swift action to remove a rather untimely doodle on its homepage. The doodle had featured a space rock to allude to the flyby of a near-Earth asteroid today. But Google has since removed the doodle in light of a meteor explosion over Russia this morning that has reportedly injured more than 700 people.
Google had created the doodle to celebrate the flyby of an asteroid dubbed ‘Asteroid 2012 DA14′, which is set to pass very close to Earth today.
Visitors to the Google homepage this morning would have seen the small ‘g’ in the Google logo dodging out of the way of the flying space rock.
However, Google removed the doodle a few minutes ago, presumably as a result of a meteor blast over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk this morning. The meteor is believed to have streaked across the sky, shedding fragments, and injuring more than 700 people.
The blast has sparked fear that the meteor explosion could be connected to the flyby of the asteroid that is set to race past Earth today, but reports suggest the two are not linked.
In an interview with BBC News, Prof Alan Fitzsimmons from the Astrophysics Research Centre at Queen’s University Belfast said there was "almost definitely" no connection.
The Google Doodle today before it was removed
Asteroid 2012 DA14
The asteroid 2012 DA14, which measures around 45 metres in diameter, is about half the size of a football pitch and has a mass of 190,000 metric tonnes. It will whiz by the Earth today at about 27,700 kilometres (17,200 miles) above our heads.
According to NASA, there is no chance of this huge chunk of space rock colliding with the planet.
The asteroid will pass so close to the Earth that it will pass inside the ring of geosynchronous weather and communications satellites. It is the closest flyby ever for a known object of this size.
Astronomers have been keeping track of the asteroid since it was first discovered a year ago by astronomers at an observatory in southern Spain.
People won’t be able to observe the asteroid with the naked eye. According to NASA’s Near Earth Object Program, the asteroid will still only appear as a point of light in the biggest of optical telescopes because of its small size, even though it will be streaking by Earth in such close proximity.
NASA will be showing a half-hour broadcast of the flyby at 2pm EST (7pm GMT) today.
Meanwhile, Astronomy Ireland will be hosting a special asteroid watch this evening at its base in Swords, Co Dublin. People will be able to use telescopes with the help of astronomers to spot the asteroid moving through the northern sky.
This diagram illustrates the passage of asteroid 2012 DA14 through the Earth-moon system on 15 February 2013. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech