An asteroid is coming close to Earth later this year and NASA is going to use it as a test of how well it can avert disaster in the form of a deadly strike.
The space agency’s “network of observatories and scientists who work with planetary defense” are waiting for the small asteroid, dubbed 2012 TC4, to pass by Earth in what they expect will be a safe but close flyby, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The scientists don’t know exactly how near it will come on October 12, but it could be as close at 4,200 miles from Earth’s surface. The farthest estimate is 170,000 miles away — a much greater distance but still closer than the moon.
Although the asteroid is not going to crash into our planet, it’s going to be used in what will be similar to a drill for these groups.
NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office is tasked with finding and keeping track of asteroids and comets that are close to Earth and could potentially pose a danger to the planet. They also are supposed to warn the public when one of them might crash down and help the government prepare for such an event.
“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,” program scientist Michael Kelley said in the JPL statement. “This time we are adding in another layer of effort, using this asteroid flyby to test the worldwide asteroid detection and tracking network, assessing our capability to work together in response to finding a potential real asteroid threat.”
2012 TC4, which hasn’t been in telescope range since the year for which it was named, is between 30 and 100 feet across, a tiny size compared to some of the other objects that pass by Earth’s neighborhood most days. The little amount of time astronomers had to observe it —…