A House-Sized Asteroid Narrowly Passed By the Earth

Thursday, 12 October 2017 - 7:09PM
Space
Earth
Solar System
Thursday, 12 October 2017 - 7:09PM
A House-Sized Asteroid Narrowly Passed By the Earth
NASA/JPL-Caltech
Good news, everyone: human civilization wasn't destroyed by a giant asteroid yesterday.

You may think that this is obviously a given, considering the fact that you still had to deal with a frustrating commute to work this morning, but it's worth bearing in mind how closely an asteroid passed us this week. NASA, who had been keeping an eye on it, was never concerned that the asteroid might actually connect with Earth, but it was only about 27,000 miles away, which is a pretty small margin when you consider the size of the solar system.

TC4, an asteroid that last visited our planet's vicinity in 2012, is at most 100 feet long. It's not the biggest asteroid in the universe, but it does seem to have a fondness for Earth, and scientists have used it as a testing tool to see how well our species' disparate space research facilities can do at sharing information.



Tracking technology has now advanced to the point that scientists didn't actually think that Earth would ever be in any danger, but with something shooting by close enough to singe the planet's metaphorical eyebrows, this has proven an interesting opportunity for study and observation - especially as, unlike some other big asteroid events in recent years, we were all able to be fully prepared for its arrival.

According to Rolf Densing, head of the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany:

Opening quote
"It's damn close. The farthest satellites are 36,000 kilometres [22,000 miles] out, so this is indeed a close miss. TC4 poses absolutely no threat to the planet, but it does afford a chance to test our asteroid tracking and space defence capabilities"
Closing quote


So, a lot of different space agencies got together and watched the light show together. It was a good opportunity for cooperation between different, often competing, programs, so it's nice to know that something like a potential asteroid collision would probably manage to unite humanity - or, at least, the guys with the keys to the good telescopes.

Even if TC4 had been caught in Earth's gravity and rocketed down to earth, it wouldn't have been a hugely big deal. This isn't the kind of asteroid that could wipe out the dinosaurs, and would have made for a fun spectacle, but probably wouldn't have done much widespread damage - although it is big enough to have wrecked a single family's day if it happened to land directly on their house.

In reality, TC4 buzzed past Antarctica, but played it cool and avoided looking like it was too interested in hanging out with us. Whatever, it'll still be back, eventually.
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