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Free Viewing of Asteroid on Weds Dec 12





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Hey Armchair astronomers and astronomy buffs! A giant asteroid will make a flyby of Earth over the next few days, and if you’re interested in seeing this asteroid for yourself you will need either a telescope or a strong pair of binoculars and a good sky map. You can also watch the 3 mile wide asteroid on your computer or smartphone via the Slooh Space Camera (see link below). 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). At its closest approach Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning, it will come within 18 lunar distances of the planet. That’s 18 times the distance from the Earth to the moon. That may not sound too close, but the asteroid’s erratic orbit occasionally has it zipping by a little too close for comfort. That’s why the asteroid has been designated “potentially hazardous.” In 2004 for example, the asteroid’s orbit took it even closer to the Earth — just about four lunar distances.

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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. 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 (1 km) 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 (10 km) across.

 

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