Warn­ing sys­tems tested as as­teroid flies close to Earth

The Witness - - NEWS -

An as­teroid the size of a school bus flew re­mark­ably near Earth yes­ter­day, pro­vid­ing sci­en­tists with an op­por­tu­nity to test the warn­ing sys­tems that would kick in if a space col­li­sion was com­ing.

As­teroid 2012 TC4 came close — pass­ing Earth at a dis­tance of only around 44 000 km, which is noth­ing in uni­verse terms.

There was no ac­tual risk of a hit, al­though the as­teroid did come well in­side the or­bit of the Moon and that of some hu­man­made satel­lites.

“Ba­si­cally, we pre­tended that this is a ‘crit­i­cal’ ob­ject with a high risk of im­pact­ing Earth ... and ex­er­cised our com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nels and used tele­scopes and radar sys­tems for ob­ser­va­tions,” Detlef Koschny of the Euro­pean Space Agency said in a blog post on the agency’s web­site. The re­sults were mixed. Koschny said one big radar sys­tem in Puerto Rico did not work due to dam­age from Hur­ri­cane Maria but that an­other U.S.­based radar sys­tem was used in­stead.

Radar im­ages showed the as­teroid was about 10 to 12 me­tres wide, rough­ ly the size of an as­teroid that ex­ploded over Chelyabinsk, Rus­sia in 2013, leav­ing more than 1 000 peo­ple in­jured by fly­ing glass and de­bris.

Koschny said the ESA now needed to up­date its pre­dic­tions for how close 2012 TC4 will come to Earth on its next flyby, which has so far been fore­cast for 2079.

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