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House-sized asteroid will come ‘very close’ to Earth 6.42pm today

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An asteroid estimated to be up to 100 feet wide is set for a close shave with Earth today, when it will soar past at a distance of just 27,000 miles above the surface – or, as some scientists have put it, ‘damn close’ PHOTO CREDIT: NASA

An asteroid estimated to be up to 100 feet wide is set for a close shave with Earth today, when it will soar past at a distance of just 27,000 miles above the surface – or, as some scientists have put it, “damn close.”

The space rock, dubbed asteroid 2012 TC4, is about 30-100 feet (10-30 metres) in size, and will fly by at just one-eighth of the distance between Earth and the moon on Thursday, October 12.

It first flitted past our planet in October 2012 at about double the distance of its next expected pass, before disappearing. But, after tracking it down last month, scientists now assure it will make a safe pass.

The United States Aeronautic Space Agency (NASA) hopes to use its international network of observatories to recover, track and characterise asteroid 2012 TC4.

As it starts to approach Earth in the coming months, large telescopes will be used to detect it and establish the asteroid’s precise trajectory.

The new observations are expected to help refine knowledge about its orbit, narrowing the uncertainty about how far it will be from Earth at its closest approach in October.

2012 TC4 will come closest to Earth around 6:42pm British Summer Time (BST)/Nigeria time and (1:42pm Eastern Standard Time/Eastern Daylight Time, ET) on October.

With this close approach, NASA will have the opportunity to test its network of observatories for its planetary defense system, in the event an asteroid did actually hit Earth.

“Scientists have always appreciated knowing when an asteroid will make a close approach to and safely pass the Earth because they can make preparations to collect data to characterise and learn as much as possible about it,” said Dr. Michael Kelley, a scientist working on the NASA TC4 observation campaign.

“This time we are adding in another layer of effort, using this asteroid flyby to test the worldwide asteroid detection and tracking network, assessing our capability to work together in response to finding a potential real asteroid threat.”

European Space Agency (ESA) scientists tracked the house-sized space rock using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile this summer.

They expected the asteroid to return for a near-Earth rendezvous this year, but did not know just how close it would come. The latest observations, made on July 27, 31, and then again on August 5, revealed 2012 TC4 will pass within one eighth of the moon’s distance from the planet.

The asteroid was first discovered in 2012, when it sped past Earth, but it has been too distant and faint to see over the last five years. It is estimated to be between 10 and 30 meters in size, or nearly the size of a Boeing-737.

According to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the asteroid’s next ‘close-approach’ to Earth will take place on December 29, 2019 – although at a much further distance of more than 21 million miles (34 million kilometers).

They believe it will shave past Earth at a distance of around 44,000 kilometres (27,300 miles). That is far enough out to just miss our geostationary satellites, according to their calculations.


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