Published: Fri, October 13, 2017
Science | By Eileen Rhodes

Small Asteroid 2012 TC4 to Whiz Safely by Earth This Week

Small Asteroid 2012 TC4 to Whiz Safely by Earth This Week

No known asteroid is now predicted to impact earth for the next 100 years. It has been described as a dress-rehearsal in case a similar asteroid hits the Earth.

A small asteroid will safely pass by Earth on Thursday at a distance of approximately 42,000 km, just above the orbital altitude of communications satellites, NASA has said. Future space rocks might, though - thus this first-of-its-kind cosmic fire drill.

Mike Kelley, who works to spot and track the space rock at Nasa, said there was "no danger".

"That's what I've been using as kind of an analogy to what we're doing here".

What makes TC4 special is that it has been chosen to test the global asteroid pre-warning system, fed by a network of observatories, universities and labs around the world. The close approach will allow researchers to learn the composition of the asteroid. The exercise will continue for another week, as observatories keep tracking the asteroid as it zooms back off into space.

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Asteroid 2012 TC4 is back for another visit nearly four years to the day since it was seen for the first time zipping by our planet. It is believed to be between 14 and 30 metres wide. The two most promising techniques that NASA is investigating are the "kinetic impactor" (hitting an asteroid with an object to slightly slow it down) and the "gravity tractor" (gravitationally tugging on an asteroid by putting a large mass near it).

Backyard astronomers have little chance of seeing the asteroid, given its speed and faintness. This is an entirely voluntary project made possible via asteroid observers funded by NASA with the support of the NASA Planetary Defense Coordination Office.

The asteroid was about half the size of the meteoroid that exploded in the atmosphere over Chelyabinsk in central Russian Federation in 2013 with the kinetic energy of 30 Hiroshima atom bombs.

The 66-foot Chelyabinsk meteor struck Earth's atmosphere, injured 1,500 people and destroyed more than 7,000 buildings.

Local footage captured the fireball streaking across the sky, and some witnesses claim they felt intense heat.

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