Asteroid that will fly close to Earth on Thursday poses no danger

Astronomers will have opportunity to observe a complete rotation of the object in just one night.
By Laurel Kornfeld | Oct 11, 2017
An asteroid discovered five years ago will come within 31,000 miles (50,000 km) of Earth on Thursday, October 12, but poses no impact danger to our planet.

Just a week after its discovery by Hawaii's Pan-STARRS,asteroid 2012 TC4 passed within 58,900 miles (94,800 km) of Earth, and observation over time indicates it has made many such approaches in the past.

Approximately the size of the meteor that hit Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013, with a diameter ranging from 26 to 85 feet (8 to 26 meters), 2012 TC4 has an elongated shape, rotates at a high speed, and orbits the Sun every 1.67 years. Its distance from the Sun is around 1.4 AU or astronomical units, with one AU equal to the average Earth-Sun distance or 93 million miles.

"There is no hazard in its upcoming pass or anytime in the near future," said Alan Harris, formerly a researcher at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

Early calculations conducted this summer by JPL led scientists to believe 2012 TC4 could come as close as 4,200 miles (6,800 km). Because these calculations were based on just seven days of tracking the asteroid, later studies by the European Space Agency's (ESA) Oliver Hainaut, Detlef Koschny, and Marco Micheli using the European Southern Observatory (ESO) concluded its approach would not be that close.

According to JPL, "The new calculations indicate that TC4 will fly safely past our planet on Oct. 12, at a distance of about 43,500 km (27,000 miles) above the surface, or about one-eighth of the distance to the Moon."

Astronomers around the world will be able to observe the asteroid, which will have a brightness of approximately magnitude 14, when it makes its close approach at 5:41 UTC (1:41 AM EDT) on Thursday.

Because 2012 TC4 has such a fast rotation rate, observers should be able to watch a full rotation in just one night, Harris said.

The International Asteroid Warning Network, a UN-sanctioned organization that focuses on collecting data on asteroids that pose potential threats to Earth, will also be following it.

While there is no chance of 2012 TC4 hitting the Earth, even if it did impact, it is too small to cause major damage and would likely land harmlessly over one of Earth's oceans, Harris noted.

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