Cancel the farewell party. Get back to work. That asteroid isn't going to hit Earth in October

ESA tells everyone to calm down and carry on


The European Space Agency has confirmed there is no danger of asteroid 2012 TC4 hitting Earth in October, despite what some panicky YouTube videos might tell you.

The rock was spotted five years ago when it whizzed past Earth, missing us by 94,800 kilometres (58,900 miles). Last month NASA eggheads reckoned the asteroid may this year come as close as 6,800 kilometers (4,200 miles), a gnat's whisker in cosmic distances.

However, the asteroid's orbit path has now been firmed up, and we're gonna be fine: it will skip past our fragile planet in October, missing us 44,000 kilometres (27,340 miles).

"The original observations revealed the asteroid’s next approach to our vicinity would be in October 2017 but its orbit meant that it could not be tracked during the last five years, leaving astronomers unsure on how close it would come," ESA said in a statement today. "The new observations reveal it will miss Earth by 44,000 kilometres (27,340 miles)."

Shortly after its 2012 flyby, astronomers lost sight of the alien object because it is so small and dark. It was picked up again this year by ESA's European Southern Observatory's 8.2-metre telescopes at its Very Large Telescope Observatory in Chile.

Even if 2012 TC4 did hit Earth, it wouldn't be an end-of-civilization event. The rock is only 15 to 30 metres (50-98 feet) wide and after being ablated by air compression on its trip through the atmosphere, the final boulder would be about the same size as the 2013 Chelyabinsk meteorite, which hurt 1,500 folks in Russia when it smashed into our planet but caused no deaths.

The asteroid, which is traveling at about 13.4 kilometres per second (30,000 miles per hour), will make its closest approach to Earth on October 12. Astroboffins are gearing up for the event and will be studying the rock closely to work out what it's made of.

"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 about it," said Michael Kelley, program scientist and NASA Headquarters lead for the TC4 observation campaign.

"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."

You may have noticed that this year's flyby distance from Earth will be less than the gap in 2012: boffins hope to use measurements of the object as it screams by to precisely figure out the rock's path. It looks as though there'll be no impact with our home world until at least 2050, though. ®

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