This autumn, a large asteroid is to give Earth a very close shave – with the 30-metre space rock flying past just 4,200 miles from our planet.
The flyby will be safe, and the asteroid, 2012 TC4, will miss Earth on October 12 – but it gives NASA to test its new ‘planetary defence system’.
NASA hopes to use an international network of observatories to track 2012 TC4 – which could pass as close as 4,200 miles or as far away as 170,000 miles.
Michael Kelley, a scientist working on the Nasa TC4 observation campaign, said: ‘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 characterise and learn as much as possible about it.
Professor Vishnu Reddy, who is leading the campaign, said: ‘This is a team effort that involves more than a dozen observatories, universities and labs across the globe so we can collectively learn the strengths and limitations of our near-Earth object observation capabilities.
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‘This effort will exercise the entire system, to include the initial and follow-up observations, precise orbit determination, and international communications.’
‘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.’