NASA will test defense system on Earth-skimming asteroid

NASA's planetary defense systems will be tested on an asteroid that is due to pass by Earth in October.
By Kathy Fey | Aug 02, 2017
NASA will take advantage of a near-Earth asteroid passing by in October to test some of the agency's planetary defense systems.

According to Newsweek, the asteroid will pass by on October 12 at a distance of 4,200 miles or more. The asteroid, called 2012 TC4, is between 10 and 30 feet wide slightly larger than the Chelyabinsk meteor that exploded over Russia in 2013. While 2012 TC4 will come astronomically close to Earth, there is no risk of impact.

"We know the orbit of 2012 TC4 well enough to be certain that it won't hit Earth," Paul Chodas of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies said.

Because the trajectory of 2012 TC4 is well known, it presents a perfect opportunity for NASA to test asteroid defense systems.

"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 characterize and learn as much as possible about it," Michael Kelley of NASA said in a statement. "This time we are adding in another layer of effort, using this asteroid fly-by to test the worldwide asteroid detection and tracking network, assessing our capability to work together in response to finding a potential real asteroid threat."

"This effort will exercise the entire system, to include the initial and follow-up observations, precise orbit determination, and international communications," Vishnu Reddy of the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory said.

NASA officials hope that 2012 TC4 will help scientists refine asteroid detection practices to allow for better accuracy in future asteroid detection and tracking.

"This is the perfect target for such an exercise because while we know the orbit of 2012 TC4 well enough to be absolutely certain it will not impact Earth, we haven't established its exact path just yet," Chodas said. "It will be incumbent upon the observatories to get a fix on the asteroid as it approaches, and work together to obtain follow-up observations [that]make more refined asteroid orbit determinations possible."

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