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Thread: Giant Asteroid Toutatis Brushing by Earth on Wednesday

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    Giant Asteroid Toutatis Brushing by Earth on Wednesday

    On Wednesday, Earth will get its closest known shave this century from a major asteroid, a monster big enough to extinguish billions of lives were it ever to collide with our home.

    4179 Toutatis has not been so close to Earth since 1353 and won't be this close again until 2562.

    But, in contrast to the warnings of a handful of doomsayers, scientists say the peril from this rock is beyond negligible.


    Asteroid Toutatis on Radar
    This radar image of Toutatis reveals it to be several kilometers long. The highest-resolution radar images show craters with diameters ranging from about 100 meters to about 600 meters.

    In fact, they say this particular risk is zero and will remain so for several centuries.

    The behemoth Toutatis is some 4.6 kilometers (2.9 miles) long by 2.4 kilometers (1.5 miles) across. Spinning like a dumbbell, Toutatis will be at its closest to Earth at 8:37 a.m. ET) (1:37 p.m. GMT) on Wednesday, when it will be 1,549,719 kilometers (962,951 miles) away, according to the Near-Earth Object (NEO) Program run by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

    That may seem comfortingly far. But in galactic terms it is narrower than a whisker: just four times the gap between Earth and the moon.

    Six months ago, panicky rumors spread on the Internet that there was little point to booking next year's summer holidays — that NASA had got it wrong or lied, and we were all heading for The Big One. Websites run by Christian zealots and individuals in contact with aliens predicted the Second Coming of Jesus or a secret U.S. nuclear missile strike to neutralize the asteroid.

    Toutatis is so big and will be so close "it should be visible in the night sky in the Southern hemisphere, if you point a pair of binoculars in the region of (the star) Alpha Centauri," said Benny Peiser of Liverpool John Moores University and a fellow of Britain's Royal Astronomical Society.

    Were Toutatis to collide with Earth, the energy released would be equivalent to tens of thousands of hydrogen bombs, kicking up dust clouds which would shield out the sunlight, plunging the planet and its inhabitants into a lethal "impact winter."

    Earth's atmosphere protects us from NEOs up to a diameter of 40 meters (130 feet), an impact energy of about three megatons.

    Beyond that size, the news is bad. NEOs between 40 meters and one kilometer (0.6 of a mile) across can inflict local damage equivalent to thousands of nuclear bombs, as evidenced by the massive explosion in Tanguska, Siberia in 1908.

    The NEO that whacked into what is now Mexico 65 million years ago, ending the long reign of the dinosaurs, is estimated to have been between five and 15 kilometers (three and 9.5 miles) across, packing a 30- to 100-million-megatonne punch.

    The good news, though, is that big advances are being made to spot the biggest threats.

    Spaceguard Survey, a U.S. program, is already two-thirds towards its goal of identifying by the end of 2008 90 percent of the estimated 1,000-1,100 asteroid NEOs that are more than one kilometer across.

    That does not include, however, comets that take centuries to loop around the sun and whose paths thus remain uncharted. Yet only a tiny number of these are likely to be any potential threat.

    "Any NEO that is going to hit the Earth will swing near our planet many times before it hits, and it should be discovered by comprehensive sky searches like Spaceguard," said NASA expert David Morrison.

    "In almost all cases, we will either have a long lead time," he points out, "or none at all."

    Asteroids are commonly thought of as chunks of rock left over from the formation of the Solar System 4.5 billion years ago. The vast majority safely trundle around the Sun in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

    But the gravitational tug of giant planets such as Jupiter, as well as collisions with other asteroids, can nudge rocks out of the belt. Those whose orbits may regularly bring them close to Earth are classified as NEOs.

    Discovered in 1989, Toutatis is probably one of the most studied asteroids of all because its most recent circuits have brought it so close to Earth. It takes four years to loop around the sun, although it has a very odd, almost chaotic spin.

    Toutatis owes its name to a trio of French astronomers, who baptized it after a Celtic god well-known in France for the comic book hero Asterix.

    Protected by Toutatis, Asterix and his friends fear nothing except the idea of the sky falling on their heads. On Wednesday, too, they should have nothing to worry about.


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    Post Re: Giant Asteroid Brushing by Earth

    I wonder why this didn't appear on the national news?
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    Post Re: Giant Asteroid Brushing by Earth

    Quote Originally Posted by FrozenDice
    I wonder why this didn't appear on the national news?
    Maybe because it's just brushing by and has no plans of impact.

    I wish it hit Earth just not near where I live. It would be quit a sight a one in a million year occurance!

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