Potentially Hazardous Asteroid Passing Close To Earth Tonight
December 11, 2012

Potentially Hazardous Asteroid Passing Close To Earth Tonight

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

Potentially Hazardous Asteroid, 4179 Toutatis, will be making a close approach of Earth this week, just in time to give "world ending" theorists something to talk about.

The asteroid has an estimated diameter of over 3 miles, which is about half the size of the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs.

Some believe that the Mayan calendar predicts the world will be ending this year on December 21 due to an asteroid striking Earth. NASA and other scientific agencies have debunked these theories, but Toutatis' timing could help some of those conspiracy theorist revive their belief.

Toutatis has made other close appearances to Earth before, including one in 2004 when the asteroid zipped past Earth at only about 4 lunar distances.

Tonight and tomorrow, Toutatis won't be as much "zipping" past Earth as it will "politely passing by." The asteroid will be 18 lunar distances away from our planet, which means it will be about 18 times farther away than the moon.

Backyard astronomers may be able to use their binoculars to get a glimpse of Toutatis during its maximum brightness. However, if you want a top-shelf look at the asteroid's close approach, Slooh will be broadcasting its telescopes' views.

“We will be tracking Asteroid Toutatis live from two observatory locations - Canary Islands, off the coast of Africa and Arizona,” Patrick Paolucci, President at Slooh, said in a statement.

Bob Berman, a columnist for Astronomy Magazine, said Slooh will be offering a view of the asteroid with background stars, where Toutatis will appear as a "streak or moving time-lapse dot across the starry field."

"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 said. "Both methods will make the asteroid's speedy orbital motion obvious as it passes us in space."

4179 Toutatis was first observed on February 10, 1934 as Object 1934 CT. It was quickly lost and not seen again for several decades, found again on January 4, 1989, when it was named after the Celtic god Teutates by Christian Pollas. The asteroid will make another close pass in 2016, albeit farther away then this year's pass, and then will not come astronomically close again until 2069.