Published: Thu, October 12, 2017
Research | By Derrick Holloway

Watch as it passes between Earth and the Moon

Watch as it passes between Earth and the Moon

NASA expects Asteroid 2012 TC4 to shoot past the Earth at a distance of just 31,000 miles and could even come as close as 4,200 miles. But even these space rocks can be risky if it hit the Earth.

It is 15 to 30 metres (50 to 100ft) wide - about the size of the meteoroid that exploded in the atmosphere over Chelyabinsk in central Russian Federation in 2013, with 30 times the kinetic energy of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. But this case will help them to test the warning system for asteroids. Thankfully, the incredibly dim magnitude 26.8 body was recovered again by one of the European Southern Observatory's 8-metre Very Large Telescopes (VLT) in Chile on 27 July this year. It is so close, that Earth's gravity will cause a major shift in the asteroid's trajectory as it exits.

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". So, if scientists become successful in getting precise details about the TC4 asteroid and its orbit, then, we can be bettered prepared for any future threats possessed by similar types of asteroids.

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Incredible facts about Asteroids Tue, April 4, 2017 The first asteroid was Ceres, discovered by Giuseppe Piazzi in 1801. This chart shows stars down to magnitude +6. So, it's the small asteroids that are hard to track and are risky for our planet.

With error bars still in the asteroid's orbit calculations, there's the chance it could get as close as 42,000 km - just above the roughly 36,000 km altitude of geosynchronous satellites - and that could make the pass visible to amateur astronomers.

The stream starts at 1am BST on October 12 (8pm EDT on October 11) and will have commentary and analysis from a panel of experts.

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Although it travelled out of the range of asteroid-tracking telescopes shortly after it was discovered, it had been predicted that it would return to view in late 2017. This is probably about the last time most United Kingdom observers with 8-inch-class telescopes will see the asteroid, low in the southwest.

The closest approach will happen at 0142 Eastern Daylight Time on October 12 (sorry, Australians, that's during daylight hours). But for now, we can relax that it will pass by in complete safety.

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