An asteroid passed 26,000 miles from Earth early Thursday morning, but NASA scientists weren’t alarmed: They had been waiting for this space rock, named 2012 TC4, to cruise by for around five years.
The asteroid is estimated to be about 45 to 100 feet in diameter, so it never had the potential to catastrophically harm the Earth.
However, it still got pretty close in cosmic terms. A distance of 26,000 miles is about one-tenth the distance between Earth and the moon. There are also hundreds of satellites orbiting Earth at about this distance.
Confident that the asteroid would harmlessly pass by and continue its aimless travels through our solar system, scientists instead used 2012 TC4 to test the world’s developing asteroid detection system as a means of preparing for what could be a real threat years from now.
“Asteroid trackers are using this flyby to test the worldwide asteroid detection and tracking network, assessing our capability to work together in response to finding a potential real asteroid-impact threat,” said NASA planetary scientist Michael Kelley in a statement.
Globally, thousands of telescopes peered at 2012 TC4 as it approached Earth. At its closest distance, the asteroid traveled over Antarctica. Following the event, scientists can see how close their size estimates of the asteroid were, and hopefully understand how they can improve their detection of near-Earth planetary threats.
Fortunately, NASA believes that it has identified 90 percent of either comets or asteroids that are over a kilometer in size (just over a mile) and close enough to be of concern to those of us on this planet.
As of now, NASA does not expect any currently known asteroid, large or small, to hit Earth in the next 100 years. But like asteroid 2012 TC4, some will pass alarmingly close to our humble blue sphere.