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Huge Asteroid Passing Close By Earth

| by Sheena Vasani

An asteroid the size of a house is heading close to Earth.

Named 2012 TC4, the asteroid, which is 30 to 100 feet wide, was first seen in 2012, but later disappeared, reports the Daily Mail.

It is now expected to pass Earth on Oct. 12 and will be about 27,000 miles from Earth, just enough to miss hitting geostationary satellites.

"It's damn close," said Rolf Densing, who heads the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

"The farthest satellites are [22,400 miles] out, so this is indeed a close miss," he added.

Scientists want to reassure the public it will not hit Earth.

"We know for sure there is no possibility for this object to hit the Earth," said Detleft Koschny of the European Space Agency.

If it did hit the Earth, the consequences would be severe -- far more serious than the meteor that exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk in February 2013, injuring 1,500 people and damaging more than 7,000 buildings.

"It is something to keep an eye on," Judit Gyorgyey-Ries, an astronomer at the University of Texas’ McDonald Observatory, told Astro Watch. "[If it were to hit Earth,] we could see an airburst, maybe broken windows, depending on where it hits."

NASA will use the opportunity to test its planetary defense system and learn more about the asteroid.

"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 they possibly can," Dr. Michael Kelley, a scientist working on the NASA TC4 observation campaign 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."

The asteroid will again closely pass the Earth on Dec. 29, 2019, but at a further distance of more than 21 million miles.

Scientists hope they can learn more about the asteroid's exact path in 2019 from the upcoming near-miss.

"This is the perfect target for such an exercise because while we know the orbit of 2012 TC4 well enough to be absolutely certain it will not impact Earth, we haven't established its exact path just yet," said Paul Chodas, a manager working on NASA's 2012 TC4 project. "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 than make more refined asteroid orbit determinations possible."

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