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Planetary Defense System Set To Take On Close Call Asteroid

Do you remember an Asteroid named 2012 TC4 which showed up very unexpectedly five years ago and buzzed the Earth at a distance of only 94,800 miles only half the distance to the moon? At that time, it was predicted to come no closer than 236,000 miles. Well it is on its way back and is set to arrive on October 12, making a “close” flyby once again. But this time, the estimated 100 foot rock could pass as close as 4,200 miles away give or take a few thousand miles.

This is first time since it went out of range in 2012 the asteroid will be back in range of the Earth. Meanwhile, NASA is getting a welcoming committee ready for the asteroid’s visit. The space agency is setting up a test of its new ‘planetary defense system’ that has been put in place to protect Earth from a doomsday asteroid threat.

While Asteroid 2012 TC4 is not exactly in the Planet Killer class, it’s about 100 feet in Diameter, it could make a good size dent in mother nature. NASA scientist Michael Kelley said: ‘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.”

Kelley said, ‘This time we are adding in another layer of effort, using this asteroid flyby to test the worldwide asteroid detection and tracking network, assessing our capability to work together in response to finding a potential real asteroid threat.’ NASA hopes to use its international network of observatories to recover, track and characterize 2012 TC4.

The program has been called a team effort, Professor Vishnu Reddy who is the leader said: ‘This involves more than a dozen observatories, universities and labs across the globe so we can collectively learn the strengths and limitations of our near-Earth object observation capabilities. This effort will exercise the entire system, to include the initial and follow-up observations, precise orbit determination, and international communications.’

Personally, NASA has not yet impressed me with the capabilities of their defense system. They can’t even agree on how close the asteroid will come to us. So far predictions made at NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies, say 2012 TC4 will pass no closer than 4,200 miles from Earth, although it will more likely pass much farther away, as far as 170,000 miles. That is like putting your money on double zero on a roulette table and being paid-off on when the ball lands on number thirty-six.

The asteroid was first discovered in 2012, when it sped past Earth, but it has been too distant and faint to see over the last five years. But as it starts to approach Earth in the coming months, large telescopes will be used to detect it and establish the asteroid’s precise trajectory. The new observations are expected to help refine knowledge about its orbit, narrowing the uncertainty about how far it will be from Earth at its closest approach in October.

Paul Chodas, a manager working on the project, 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 and make more refined asteroid orbit determinations possible.’

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