A small asteroid is scheduled to safely pass by Earth tomorrow at a distance of about 42,000 kilometres, allowing trackers around the world to test their ability to operate as an international asteroid warning network. The asteroid designated 2012 TC4 is estimated to be 15 to 30 meters in size. Orbit prediction experts say the asteroid poses no risk of impact with Earth.
Its closest approach to Earth will be over Antarctica on October 12 at 11:12 am IST.
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. This asteroid was discovered by the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) in Hawaii in 2012. However, 2012 TC4 traveled out of the range of asteroid- tracking telescopes shortly after it was discovered.
Based on the observations they were able to make in 2012, asteroid trackers predicted that it should come back into view in 2017. Observers with the European Space Agency and the European Southern Observatory were the first to recapture 2012 TC4, in late July this year, using one of their large 8-metre aperture telescopes. Since then, observers around the world have been tracking the object as it approaches Earth and reporting their observations to the Minor Planet Center.
This "test" of what has become a global asteroid-impact early-warning system is a volunteer project, conceived and organised by asteroid observers and supported by the NASA Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO). "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, programme scientist and NASA PDCO lead for the TC4 observation campaign.
No asteroid currently known is predicted to impact Earth for the next 100 years.