A chunk of space rock up to 30 metres wide is going to fly past Earth less than 50,000 kilometres away – “damn close” in space terms, as one scientist put it.
The asteroid, 2012 TC4, is about 9x30 metres in size – nowhere near the size of the 9.6km rock that is believed to have wiped out the dinosaurs.
But it’s expected flyby, just 43,000km from our planet, is “damn close”, according to Rolf Densing, head of the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany.
It will fly by on October 12 at one eighth of the distance between Earth and the moon, and about 30 per cent further away than geosynchronous satellites.
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”.
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NASA hopes to use an international network of observatories to track 2012 TC4 – which could still pass as close as 6,700km or as far away as 273,000km.
Michael Kelley, a scientist working on the Nasa TC4 observation campaign, said: “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 characterise and learn as much as possible about it.”