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House-sized asteroid 2012 TC4 to 'narrowly' miss Earth on Thursday

12 October 2017, 12:36 | Darnell Patrick

The 2012 TC4 asteroid has only been observed once

The 2012 TC4 asteroid has only been observed once

It is just 1/8th the distance from the Earth to the Moon.

Called 2012 TC4, the asteroid will pass by Earth at an altitude of less than 44,000 km, just above the 36,000 km level where hundreds of satellites orbit the Earth.

"We've now been observing TC4 for two months, so we have very accurate position information on it, which in turn allows very precise calculations of its orbit", which will not cross that of Earth nor its satellites, he told AFP.

Observers with the European Space Agency and the European Southern Observatory were the first to recapture 2012 TC4, in late July 2017, using one of their large 8-m aperture telescopes.

It is roughly the same size as the meteor that caused widespread damage when it exploded in the atmosphere over Chelyabinsk in central Russian Federation in 2013.

"We will have commentary from our asteroid experts and explore the threat they pose to our planet".

That blast, which had 30 times the kinetic energy of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, left more than 1,200 people injured and blew out windows in around 5,000 buildings.

While the Chelyabinsk event caught everyone unawares, TC4 is one of thousands of space rocks whose whereabouts are known.

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This looping animation depicts an artist's impression of the safe flyby of small asteroid 2012 TC4 as it passes under Earth on the United Kingdom morning of 12 October 2017.

Pretty close means the asteroid will pass around 26,000 miles from Earth, but that's not very far away in space terms.

.

The flyby will be safe, and the asteroid, 2012 TC4, will miss Earth - but it gives NASA a chance to test its new "planetary defence system". If predictions hold true, the asteroid could be visible in 8-inch telescopes and larger as it traverses the stars of Aquarius into Capricornus, accelerating to nearly 4 degrees per hour before it sets as seen from the UK.

"We are practising for a real serious case", he added.

The asteroid, 2012 TC4, is about 9x30 metres in size - nowhere near the size of the 9.6km rock that is believed to have wiped out the dinosaurs.

Sky and Telescope notes its approach is close enough that the rock's orbit will get a small deviation from Earth's gravity.

It will not be visible to the naked eye nor with regular binoculars, "but it can be seen in the night of 11-12 October until about 4.00 am from European observatories", Jehn said.



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