International Asteroid Detection and Tracking Network Prepares for Close Flyby

An asteroid will make an unusually close flyby of Earth on October 12 at about 07:41 CEST, at a distance of 43 780 km – about 1/8 of the average distance to our Moon. The discovery will provide scientists with a chance to study the object and test the international asteroid detection and tracking network.

On several nights in July and August, astronomers Olivier Hainaut, Detlef Koschny and Marco Micheli, used one of the European Southern Observatory’s 8.2-meter telescopes at its Very Large Telescope Observatory, in Chile, to spot the piece of space rock. These were the first observations of the small asteroid since its discovery in 2012.

“We were able to detect this small asteroid, roughly 20 meters in diameter when it was located more than 60 million kilometers away from Earth, and it was 250 million times fainter than the faintest star visible to the naked eye (the faintest observation of a NEO ever reported). Our data, already publicly available, allow for a much better determination of the trajectory of 2012 TC4 and will be essential to the campaign that will test the international asteroid detection and tracking network,” said Micheli.

Asteroid 2012 TC4

Asteroid 2012TC4 appears as a dot at the center of this composite of 37 individual 50-sec exposures obtained with the FORS2 instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope. The individual images have been shifted to compensate for the motion of the asteroid so that the background stars and galaxies appear as bright trails. Credit: ESO/ESA/O. Hainaut (ESO), M. Micheli (ESA), D. Koschny (ESA), CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Over 50 astronomers expressed interest  in the international campaign led by NASA,  and almost  a  dozen observatories  have provided observations  of the object.  The goal  of the  campaign is to get  data with  the widest variety of  instruments, observational techniques, and wavelengths to gather the entire amount of information that can be collected from the ground on such an object.

“We can determine the trajectory  of the  asteroid to  an  extremely  accurate  level, and also  the  size  of  the  object,  its rotational  period  and  orientation,  its  density,  thermal  properties,  composition,  surface  structure, and more. All this information provides a complete characterization of the object’s properties, including all the information  that  would  have  been  essential  to  understand  impact  effects  and  plan  mitigation procedures on the ground in case the object had been in an actual impact trajectory,” said Micheli.

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