Published: Fri, October 13, 2017
Science | By Cecil Little

NASA coordination project will test vital asteroid early warning system tomorrow

NASA coordination project will test vital asteroid early warning system tomorrow

An asteroid the size of a large house passed by Earth early on Thursday morning at a distance of about 27,000 miles (44,000km).

That represents about an eighth of the distance between the Earth and the Moon.

"We are going to use this asteroid to practice the system that would observe an asteroid, characterize it and compute how close it is going to come, in case some day we have one that is on the way inbound and might hit", CNEOS manager Pal Chodas told BBC.

The asteroid is called 2012 TC4, and it was first discovered by scientists back in 2012.

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Near Earth Asteroid 2012 TC4 is surrounded by a blue circle in this ESO image.

This week, another cosmic object will fly by Earth quite close to it, avoiding a collision with our planet and its geostationary satellites at a relatively small distance.

Earth's global network is made up of volunteer astronomers who monitor specific aspects of the asteroid, such as density, trajectory and size, and communicate with other teams around the world.

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

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"Scientists have always appreciated knowing when an asteroid will make a close approach to and safely pass the Earth because they can make preparations to collect data to characterize and learn as much as possible about it", said Michael Kelley, a NASA program scientist.

The closest approach to Earth was expected at 1:40 a.m. Thursday over Antarctica.

"Basically, we pretended that this is a "critical" object with a high risk of impacting Earth ... and exercised our communication channels and used telescopes and radar systems for observations", Detlef Koschny of European Space Agency said in a blog post on the agency's website. "So we wanted to test how ready we are for a potential impact by a hazardous asteroid", he said.

Futuristic projects mooted to deflect or destroy incoming space rocks have come to nought so far, and the only strategy would be to evacuate people in zones at risk.

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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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