House-sized asteroid will pass by Earth at just above satellite altitude

2012 tc4

2012 tc4

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

Dubbed 2012 TC4, the space rock will shave past at an altitude of less than 44,000km (27,300 miles) - just above the 36,000-km plane at which hundreds of geosynchronous satellites orbit the Earth. In 1998 and again in 2005, Congress directed NASA scientists to prioritize their study of near-Earth objects, or NEOs, to prevent a devastating asteroid collision with Earth.

Nasa's Mike Kelley, who leads the exercise to spot, track and intimately probe the transient visitor, insisted there was "no danger". He informed that their research team has been observing TC4 for two months, so they have very accurate position information about it which will help them obtain very precise calculations of its orbit.

Observers with the European Space Agency and the European Southern Observatory were the first to recapture 2012 TC4, in late July 2017, using one of their large 8-m aperture telescopes. The Chelyabinsk meteor exploded about 12 miles over Russian Federation with about 30 times more power than the nuclear bomb over Hiroshima in 1946.

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Millions of similar asteroids' locations are not known, while TC4 is one of just thousands that can be tracked.

In other words, if there's a real, Armageddon-style asteroid threatening Earth, expert bodies around the world will be able to detect it and hopefully be able to come up with a better plan than sending a bunch of oil drillers up in space to divert it away from sending us into oblivion.

The asteroid drifted out of range of the asteroid-tracking telescopes shortly after it was detected.

"For us this is a test case", said Jehn's colleague Detlef Koschny.

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Studies of this asteroid's light curve found that it has a rotation period of just under 12¼ minutes with a brightness variation of nearly a magnitude, which indicates that 2012 TC4 has a non-spherical (most likely elongated) shape.

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.

Sky and Telescope notes its approach is close enough that the rock's orbit will get a small deviation from Earth's gravity.

Unfortunately, the asteroid will not be visible to the naked eye and will require a telescope to be seen in person.

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