Asteroid flyby: Scientists will use space rock to test global warning network

Scientists are using Thursday’s asteroid flyby to test Earth’s international warning network.

The small asteroid, 2012 TC4, will pass safely by Earth at a distance of approximately 26,000 miles, about one tenth of the distance to the Moon, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The space rock, estimated to be about 50 to 100 feet in size, will make its closest approach to Earth over Antarctica at 1:42 AM EDT on Oct. 12

“Orbit prediction experts say the asteroid poses no risk of impact with Earth,” explained NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a statement. “Nonetheless, its close approach to Earth is an opportunity to test the ability of a growing global observing network to communicate and coordinate its optical and radar observations in a real scenario.”

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NASA says that tens of professionally-run telescopes across the globe will be making ground-based observations in wavelengths from visible to near-infrared to radar.

2012 TC4 was first discovered by the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) in Hawaii in 2012, but traveled out of the range of asteroid-tracking telescopes shortly after. The asteroid was recaptured by observers with the European Space Agency and the European Southern Observatory in late July 2017. Observers across the globe have since been tracking the object reporting their observations to the Minor Planet Center.

"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 Michael Kelley, program scientist and NASA Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) lead for the TC4 observation campaign, in the statement.

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While amateur astronomers may contribute more observations, the space agency warns that the fast-moving asteroid will be very difficult for backyard astronomers to see.

Last year, NASA opened its PDCO to track asteroids and comets that come too close to Earth.

NASA has been studying Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) since the 1970s. According to the PDCO, NASA-funded survey projects have found more than 95 percent of the known catalogue of over 15,000 NEOs.

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Earlier this year, NASA announced that it is searching for a planetary protection officer to protect Earth from extraterrestrial contamination.

A giant space rock measuring approximately 2,000 feet across flew past Earth at a distance of 1.1 million miles earlier this year.

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