An Asteroid Will Fly Past Earth in October

Astronomers have detected an asteroid the size of a house that will harmlessly fly past Earth on October 12. The discovery will provide scientists with a chance to study the object and test the NASA international asteroid detection and tracking network.
Asteroid 2012 TC4 will fly past Earth in October 2017

Asteroid 2012 TC4 will fly past Earth in October 2017. Credit: ESO / ESA / NEOCC / O. Hainaut (ESO), M. Micheli (ESA), D. Koschny (ESA)


On July 27, 31, and then again on August 5, the approaching asteroid 2012 TC4 was observed by astronomers Olivier Hainaut, Detlef Koschny, and Marco Micheli of the European Space Agency (ESA) using one of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) telescopes at its Very Large Telescope Observatory in Chile.

The 15–30 m sized asteroid, called 2012 TC4, will safely fly past Earth at a distance of about 44,000km – an eighth of the distance from the Earth to the Moon. This is the first observation since 2012 when the asteroid was discovered by the Pan-STARRS observatory in Hawaii. Scientists expected the asteroid to return for a near-Earth rendezvous this year but did not know how close it would get.

“Our data, already publicly available, allows for a much better determination of the trajectory of 2012 TC4 during the upcoming October approach to Earth, and will be essential for NASA to develop their campaign over the next few weeks,” said Micheli.


This animation depicts the safe flyby of asteroid 2012 TC4 as it passes under Earth on Oct. 12, 2017. While scientists cannot yet predict exactly how close it will approach, they are certain it will come no closer than 4,200 miles (6,800 kilometers) from Earth's surface.

Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech


"This is a team effort that involves more than a dozen observatories, universities and labs across the globe so we can collectively learn the strengths and limitations of our near-Earth object observation capabilities," project leader Vishnu Reddy, of the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in Tucson, said in a statement.

Asteroids are rocky bodies left over from the formation of our solar system some 4.5bn years ago. There are thought to be millions of them, most of them in a “belt” between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. An asteroid of this size entering our atmosphere would have a similar effect to the Chelyabinsk event of 2013 when a meteoroid exploded in the atmosphere over the city of Chelyabinsk in central Russia. The resulting shockwave damaged nearly 5,000 buildings and injured more than 1,200 people.


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