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12 August 2017, 03:40 | Anna Nguyen
As per reports, an asteroid the size of a house will shave past Earth at a distance of some 44,000 kilometres (27,300 miles) on the twelfth day of October, far inside the Moon's orbit but without posing any threat. For comparison, the distance that geostationary satellites orbit at is roughly 22,000 miles, so TC4 is going to be incredibly close to our planet when it makes its pass.
"It will not hit the Earth", said Detlef Koschny of ESA's "Near Earth Objects" research team. "There is no danger whatsoever". Scientists had expected it to flit past the planet again this year, but did not know at what distance.
Astronomers recently spotted asteroid 2012 TC4 under a collaboration between the European Space Agency and the European Southern Observatory (ESO) to locate faint objects that might strike Earth. "The farthest satellites are 36,000km out, so this is indeed a close miss".
It will be a rare opportunity for researchers to test Earth's "planetary defense" systems, which are more about early warning than asteroid deflection, although research is being conducted into the latter.
Observing TC4's movements "is an excellent opportunity to test the worldwide ability to detect and track near-Earth objects and assess our ability to respond together to a real asteroid threat", said an ESA statement.
There are thought to be millions of them, majority in a "belt" between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
A 40m-long space rock caused the largest Earth impact in recent history when it exploded over Tunguska, Siberia, in 1908, flattening 2,000 km2 of forest.
More than 1,500 people were injured by the shock wave from the explosion, estimated to be as strong as 20 Hiroshima atomic bombs, as it landed near the city of Chelyabinsk.
It measures, at most, up to 30 meters across - similar in size to the asteroid that hit Chelyabinsk in Russian Federation in 2013. Also, it would likely behave very differently to the Chelyabinsk object.
"Due to the icy nature it probably dissipated in the atmosphere. They are mostly made up of iron, so will not so easily dissipate their energy in the atmosphere".
It could pass just 4,200 miles (6,800 kilometers) from Earth for the first time since it went out of range in 2012, Nasa says.
Paul Chodas, a manager working on the project, said: 'This is the flawless 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.
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