3-mile-wide asteroid to buzz planet Earth tonight

By Space.com

Published December 11, 2012



A giant asteroid will make a flyby of Earth over the next few days, and  armchair astronomers can watch the action live on their computers.

The near-Earth asteroid  4179 Toutatis, which is about 3 miles wide, will zoom within 4.3 million  miles of Earth during its closest approach early Wednesday morning, Dec. 12.  That’s too far away to pose any impact threat on this pass, but close enough to  put on a pretty good show through top-notch telescopes, researchers say.

And some of those scopes will be tracking Toutatis’ movements for the benefit  of skywatchers around the world. The online Slooh Space Camera and Virtual  Telescope Project, for example, will both stream live, free footage of the asteroid from professional-quality observatories.

Slooh will webcast Toutatis views from a scope in the Canary Islands off the  west coast of Africa beginning at 3 p.m. EST (2000 GMT) Dec. 11. Another show  will follow at 10 p.m. EST tonight (0300 GMT Wednesday), with footage from an  instrument in Arizona. You can watch them at Slooh’s website: http://www.slooh.com.

Both shows will feature commentary from Slooh president Patrick Paolucci and  Astronomy Magazine columnist Bob Berman. [Photos:  Asteroids in Deep Space]

“Slooh technical staff will let the public follow this fast-moving asteroid  in two different ways. In one view, the background stars will be tracked at  their own rate and the asteroid will appear as an obvious streak or a moving  time-lapse dot across the starry field,” Berman said in a statement.

“In a second view, Toutatis itself will be tracked and held steady as a tiny  pointlike object, while Earth’s spin makes the background stars whiz by as  streaks,” Berman added. “Both methods will make the asteroid’s speedy orbital  motion obvious as it passes us in space.”

Meanwhile, the Virtual Telescope Project — which is run by Gianluca Masi of  Bellatrix Astronomical Observatory in Italy — will offer its own free webcast  Thursday at 3 p.m. EST (2000 GMT), complete with commentary from  astrophysicists.

You can see that video stream here: http://www.virtualtelescope.eu/webtv/

Asteroid Toutatis was first viewed in 1934, then officially discovered in  1989. It makes one trip around the sun every four years.

The Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Mass., lists Toutatis as a potentially  hazardous object, meaning that it could pose a threat to our planet at some  point in the future. The current flyby is no cause for concern, however. At its  closest approach, which comes at 1:40 a.m. (0640 GMT) Wednesday, Toutatis will  still be 18 times farther away from Earth than the moon is.

Toutatis would cause catastrophic damage if it ever did slam into Earth. In  general, scientists think a strike by anything at least 0.6 miles wide could  have global consequences, most likely by altering the world’s climate for many  years to come.

For comparison, the asteroid thought to have wiped out the dinosaurs 65  million years ago was an estimated 6 miles across.

Read more:  http://www.foxnews.com/science/2012/12/11/huge-asteroid-to-pass-earth-tonight/print#ixzz2EpBVIaLZ

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