As far as errant chunks of space rock go, this one’s a tiddler.
But this particular asteroid — called 2012 TC4 — is going to fly past the Earth at a distance of only 95,000 kilometers (59,000 miles), or one-quarter the Earth-moon distance. As far as near-misses go, that’s the outer edge of the bulls-eye.
Although 2012 TC4 will likely garner an impressive array of scary headlines, even if it did hit us, it’s unlikely the space rock — depending on its composition — would do much damage. It’s only 17 meters (56 feet) wide.
“Small asteroid 2012 TC4 will safely pass Earth Oct 12 at just .25 the distance to our moon’s orbit,” said scientists at NASA’s Asteroid Watch program via a Twitter update.
According to Spaceweather.com, 2012 TC4 could be spotted by amateur astronomers: “There is no danger of a collision, but the 16 meter-wide space rock will be close enough to photograph through backyard telescopes as it brightens to approximately 14th magnitude. NASA hopes to ping this this object with radar, refining its orbit and possibly measuring its shape.”
In related (and potentially more critical) news, a 500-meter (1,640 feet) wide hazardous near-Earth asteroid has been re-discovered by an amateur astronomer of the ESA’s space hazards program. Erwin Schwab, from Germany, used ESA’s Optical Ground Station in Tenerife, Spain — a system sponsored by the Agency’s Space Situational Awareness program.
Asteroid 2008 SE85 was originally discovered by the Catalina Sky Survey in September 2008, but it disappeared by October of the same year. Astronomers considered the interplanetary interloper “lost” as its orbit wasn’t well defined.
Fortunately, Schwab had the tenacity to scan a patch of sky where the asteroid may have drifted into. “I found the object on the evening of Saturday, 15 September, while checking the images on my computer,” he said. “I then saw it again at 01:30 on Sunday morning – and that was my birthday! It was one of the nicest birthday presents.”
The amateur astronomer’s find has been confirmed by a number of observatories world-wide including the US-based Minor Planet Center.
Like 2012 TC4, 2008 SE85 isn’t an immediate threat to Earth, but it is classified as a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA) as it is large enough to wreak significant global damage if it did hit us and it will come within 7 million kilometers (4.3 million miles) during closest approach. Around 1,300 PHAs have been discovered to date.
In the business of asteroid detection, you need as many eyes looking through telescopes as possible, so projects like ESA’s Space Situational Awareness program are of critical importance.
Image credit: ESA