Two Asteroids Will Buzz Past Earth on December 11

by Nancy Atkinson on December 11, 2012

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Four computer generated views of Asteroid Toutatis based on Goldstone radar imagery. Via NASA

A newly discovered small asteroid named 2012 XE54 and a long-studied giant space rock named Toutatis will buzz past Earth during the next 24 hours, and astronomers are already watching the skies. While there is no danger of either hitting Earth, scientists have much to learn from both. Asteroid 2012 XE54 was discovered over the weekend on December 9 and it will safely pass between the Earth and the Moon’s orbit at a distance of about 226,000 km (141,000 miles) or about .6 lunar distances. Closest approach will be just a few hours after this article was posted, at 10:10 UTC on Dec. 11. But already an interesting event has already happened with this 28-meter-wide asteroid: it was eclipsed by Earth’s shadow. This is quite a rare event, and was visible to astronomers.

This animation shows the Sun and the Earth as observed from the asteroid 2012 XE54. If this eclipse occurs, the asteroid will be in Earth’s shadow. Animation via Pasquale Tricarico

Pasquale Tricarico of the Planetary Science Institute had predicted that the asteroid would pass through the Earth’s shadow, creating an asteroid eclipse, an event that is similar to an eclipse of the full Moon by Earth’s shadow. At 01:22 UTC on December 11 the eclipse began, and it left Earth’s shadow at 02:00 UTC. Those watching the asteroid noted that the asteroid “disappeared” from its track, and then reappeared after leaving Earth’s shadow.

“In two images taken at 01:30:16 and 01:31:18, 60sec exposure, 2012 XE54 appeared as a very faint and long track, then… nothing. In the following images there is no visible track. Wonderful!” wrote Elia Cozzi from the New Millennium Observatory, posting in the mpml asteroid research group message board.

We hope to have images of the event when they become available.

4179 Toutatis, with a shape that has been described as a “malformed potato” will pass at a large distance of 6.9 million kilometers (4.3 million miles) away from Earth, or more than 18 times the distance from the Earth to the Moon.

It is a biggie, though at 4.46 kilometers (2.7 miles) long and 2.4 kilometers (1.5 miles) wide, and is considered a potentially hazardous asteroid because it makes repeated passes by the Earth, about every four years. In comparison, the asteroid that is thought to have destroyed the dinosaurs was approximately 10 km (6 miles) wide.

It’s closest pass will be covered by the Slooh Space Camera on Tuesday, December 11th, with several live shows on Slooh.com, free to the public, starting at 20:00 UTC (12 PM PST / 3 PM EST, find international times here — accompanied by real-time discussions with Slooh President, Patrick Paolucci, and Astronomy Magazine columnist, Bob Berman.

At its maximum brightness, Toutatis might be barely visible through binoculars, but should be very bright through Slooh telescopes at its being tracked.

“We will be tracking Asteroid Toutatis live from two observatory locations – Canary Islands, off the coast of Africa and Arizona,” said Patrick Paolucci, President at Slooh.

Astronomers are interested in this returning asteroid to try and figure out what the asteroid is made of. Also by refining a model of the asteroid’s rotation, they’ll get a better idea of its composition, thereby gaining a greater understanding of the early solar system.

Lance Benner from JPL said that this asteroid is tumbling slowly, but with a complex motion.

“It’s a very peculiar rotation state,” Benner said. “It rotates very slowly and it tumbles in a manner somewhat similar to the way a football tumbles if you screw up a long pass.”

Sources: Slooh, Earth-Sky blog, JPL Small Body database, Planetary Science Institute

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

John Stock December 11, 2012 at 3:44 AM

would have been handy to tell us this a a few day before.

Equalthruliberty December 11, 2012 at 12:55 PM

There is a nice table of P.H.A.’s @ spaceweather dot com. Just a friendly F.Y.I.

John Stock December 12, 2012 at 9:49 AM

thanks.

Gregor Shapiro December 11, 2012 at 4:41 AM

“…the asteroid that is thought to have destroyed the dinosaurs…”
How about
“…the asteroid that is thought to have changed the Earth’s environment so rapidly that most of the dinosaurs became extinct…”

Dampe December 11, 2012 at 6:16 AM

Wow! :S You corrected something so insignificant.
You just turned an easy, simple to understand sentence into a mouthful of necessary literal information.

Ryan Moore December 11, 2012 at 10:50 AM

No, he did not. I personally was always under the impression that an asteriod large enough hit the earth so hard all the dinosaurs died from the shock.

zkank December 11, 2012 at 5:20 PM

Wow!
Flaming someone for being specific and accurate at a science blog!

Zachary Gross December 11, 2012 at 5:42 PM

Yes, it is more correct. But this article is not about how the dinosaurs went extinct. The “correction” is irrelevant.

zkank December 11, 2012 at 7:21 PM

I disagree.
If it’s in the article, it’s relevant.

This site shouldn’t be one strictly for information; it is also be for education.
Not every subscriber has the education level or opportunities as you or I might have.

In my opinion, I don’t think that Greg Shapiro was nit-picking on this particular point.
When I first read the sentence, it was glaringly ambiguous to me, too.
The author adding even one word like “ultimately” would have made it concise.

Paul M Evora December 11, 2012 at 5:09 AM

This small asteroid was discovered only like 2 days ago. Lucky us, it would not hit earth. But what if it was to hit earth, what could we do in just 2 days notice? Scary thing:- /

Joe McFarland December 11, 2012 at 10:07 AM

Thats not true, you clearly didn’t even read the article. This is a well known asteroid and it passes every four years… They have most asteroids’ paths projected already using computer models, and although anything can happen, if we are in line to get hit, you’ll know about it long before then.

Alison December 11, 2012 at 6:54 AM

or, a little earlier in the article, as Paul correctly paraphrased “Asteroid 2012 XE54 was discovered over the weekend on December 9 and it will safely pass between the Earth and the Moon’s orbit at a distance of about 226,000 km (141,000 miles) or about .6 lunar distances.” – this thing, while only 28m wide (still a pretty huge chunk of rock if it lands on your house though – how much of it would burn up on entry?), passed half way between the moon and us and was completely unknown before Sunday. I reckon Paul poses a fair question.

Rui Sousa December 11, 2012 at 12:53 PM

Paul meant the newly discovered 2012 XE54 asteroid, not Toutatis. Please follow your own advice.

Luvz2spooge December 11, 2012 at 1:43 PM

I don’t think they would say a god damn word about it tbh. Why create a panic? Maybe word would trickle down but nothing official. Not unless one of us discovers it.

Alan J December 13, 2012 at 5:16 AM

Exactly! We have an asteroid nearly 1/2 the size of the one that killed the dinosaurs every 4 years and we’re just watching?

Joe McFarland December 11, 2012 at 10:08 AM

“Astronomers are interested in this returning asteroid to try and figure out what the asteroid is made of. Also by refining a model of the asteroid’s rotation, they’ll get a better idea of its composition, thereby gaining a greater understanding of the early solar system.” Right there near the bottom son. Read before you speak.

Lorin Ionita December 12, 2012 at 7:38 AM

“A newly discovered small asteroid named 2012 XE54 and a long-studied giant space rock named Toutatis”

Olaf2 December 11, 2012 at 12:52 PM

The small one is only 28 meters wide.

It is only annoying if you happen to stand below it where it impacts but not a world scale event.

Here you can play with the parameters.
http://www.purdue.edu/impactearth/

TheVeganarchist December 11, 2012 at 7:09 AM

those things in the picture look more like “ass-droids” if you catch my drift

Rick Holcomb December 11, 2012 at 1:43 PM

I guess we shouldn’t keep 12 year olds off this site, even if we could. They *might* learn something.

brijesh gupta December 11, 2012 at 4:47 AM

what u say about 21 dec 2012 …….some body says it is end of earth

Kevin Frushour December 11, 2012 at 10:46 AM

Are we still here?

Josh eashappie December 12, 2012 at 7:21 AM

while yes we are, its not prodicted how fast it could come at the earth, or even sure if the days are correct as we can only assume

Midwestmutt December 11, 2012 at 11:26 AM

Only an astronomer could get excited about not seeing something.

e420Kush December 13, 2012 at 9:46 PM

“But already an interesting event has already happened with this
28-meter-wide asteroid: it was eclipsed by Earth’s shadow. This is
quite a rare event, and was visible to astronomers.”

Says here they could see it, what are you talking about….?

JoTimmJo December 11, 2012 at 1:01 PM

Sometimes man you jsut gotta roll with it.

http://www.Got-Anonz.tk

Olaf2 December 11, 2012 at 8:39 PM

It is the extinction of doom promoters.

Lorin Ionita December 12, 2012 at 7:40 AM

Sadly… no. It’s not the first time the apocalypse has been predicted. As always a new date will be picked and everything will go full circle again.

Paul Felix Schott December 12, 2012 at 1:34 AM

ALL THAT EVER LIVED ON EARTH WILL SOON HAVE THEIR EYES TO THE HEAVENS

Do a little History on this one.

ALL Should Look Up “2012 DA14″.

This
could take out one of more satellites and the junk and debris from the
hit could end up taking out many more satellites very soon after that.
All the satellite collision probability will go way up if even one is
hit. The velocity that the parts would go to would make them missiles
that would start targeting a chain reaction this would not be good.

Most
all will be watching this one and pray it goes by us with out a hit.
Every Scientist alive will be watching this event. Many will be in
Florida for a very special viewing of the once in a Lifetime Event.
Professors, Scientist, World Leaders, Ham Radio Operators and Every
Astronomer will have its eyes on This Event, along with almost every TV
set on Earth.

“2012
DA14″ goes by Earth twice a year and there is no way anyone for sure
can tell how close the second pass will be till it passes by the Moon
and Earth and the GRAVITATIONAL FORCE effect that it will have on this
Asteroid.

They may come close but this one is already coming
very close to begin with. Too close this time or on its second or 3rd
pass? Ad a Meteor Shower like the 13 and 14 of December of this year, it
might go through or bump into one of them? Or all the other orbital
debris like Spent Rocket Boosters left in space that can no longer be
moved by a control center on Earth.

If a big enough one were to
slam into the moon in the night sky you would think the sun was coming
up early only it would be 5 to 7 times as bright. From The Sun’s Rays
Reflection on all the Debris Field.

2012 XM16, 2012 XM55, 2012
XP55, THERE ARE OVER 25 found just this year 2012 that are part of the
Near Earth Object Program that will come close to
Earth from now till 2012 DA14 comes.

You do not want to know how many are on the “PLANETARY DEFENSE” list.
The PLANETARY DEFENSE is not to protect Earth from men from Mars.
It
is for all mankind with most all Nation in on it to stop if can most
all collision with EARTH from a ASTEROID IMPACT. It is if you will a
AVOIDANCE SHIELD. “N.E.O.S. Near Earth Object Shield”.

If only
one were to hit or IMPACT EARTH on land get ready for a winter you will
never forget. The winter from 1883 -1884 KRAKATOA you will think was a
little pebble, and now the stone comes.

If this Meteor Shower is big enough you might think all the stars are falling from Heaven.

GET READY

Read your Bible
While you still
can,
and May
our Lord GOD Bless all that do so.
John 14 : 6
Luke 13 : 27
Matthew 7 : 20 – 27

The Lord’s Little Helper.
Paul Felix Schott.

P.S.
Help others in are Lord’s name Jesus Christ help bring all to know him while you still can.

Phil Marinus December 12, 2012 at 1:57 AM

I must get some of those Drugs your on.

Dampe December 12, 2012 at 9:17 AM

And you check out Matthew 21:17.
Think about it…

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