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Oct 12, 2017: Asteroid whizzes past Earth and offers NASA opportunity to test planetary defenses

SPACE - Asteroid 2012 TC4 passes by Earth at a safe distance, yet close enough for NASA to test its planetary defenses.

The space rock is estimated to be 30-100 feet (10-30 meters), possibly slightly larger than the one that hit Earth’s atmosphere near Chelyabinsk, Russia, in Feb 2013.

NASA predicts that it will not come closer to Earth than 4,200 miles (6,800 km), and might be as far away as 170,000 miles (270,000 km) – two-thirds of the distance from Earth to the Moon. The agency bases the calculations on a brief tracking period after the discovery of the asteroid on Oct 5, 2012, by the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System on the island of Maui in Hawaii.

As it starts to approach Earth, large telescopes will be used to detect it and re-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.

Michael Kelley, program scientist and NASA Headquarters lead for the TC4 observation campaign, will track the celestial body again. “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,” he said.

NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office is responsible for finding, tracking and characterizing potentially hazardous asteroids and comets coming near Earth, issuing warnings about possible impacts, and assisting coordination of U.S. government response planning, should there be an actual impact threat.

NASA is also working on an asteroid deflection program called DART.

#22274 Published: 08/04/2017

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