Asteroid Toutatis Narrowly Misses Earth

Asteroid-ToutatisAstronomers were keeping their eyes on the skies yesterday as the asteroid known as 4179 Toutatis passed Earth by. While it was never a direct threat to Earth, its passage presented an opportunity for scientists to study it and the history of the early Solar System.

At its closest approach, 4179 Toutatis was 7 million km away from Earth, or roughly 18 times farther than the Moon. But that was close enough for NASA’s Goldstone Observatory to snap some radar images of the object (shown below). The timing could not have been more fortuitous, since NASA had recently upgraded to a new digital imaging system. And numerous amateur astronomers were able to get some interesting pics and even video.

Already, there are some preliminary findings from this 4.5-kilometer- long (3-mile-long) asteroid’s flyby. According to Michael Busch, a radar team member of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory: “Toutatis appears to have a complicated internal structure. Our radar measurements are consistent with the asteroid’s little lobe being ~15% denser than the big lobe; and they indicate 20% to 30% over-dense cores inside the two lobes.”

In truth, this is not the first time that Toutatis has passed Earth by. As it passes by Earth’s orbit every 4 years, it is one of the largest known potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs) to have an orbit around the Sun so closely resembling our own. This presents another opportunity for study of the object. As Lance Benner of NASA’s Near Earth Object Program (NEOP) puts it: “We already know that Toutatis will not hit Earth for hundreds of years. These new observations will allow us to predict the asteroid’s trajectory even farther into the future.”

As they say, “an ounce of preservation…” And in the meantime, check out the photos and video taken of 4179 Toutatis as it passed Earth between the days of Dec. 11th and 12th, 2012.

Toutatis.dec11.13runs.and_.25runs.p05us.p025Hz.chirp_.s446Source: Universe Today

Jupiter May Have Saved Us… Again!

According to astronomers, one of key ingredients for a planet to create life is for it to have a gas giant orbiting in the outer reaches of its system. This big fella essentially provides blocking action for your life-giving world, absorbing asteroids with its massive gravitational pull and intimidating size! Apparently, Jupiter has been doing this for Earth for much of our Solar Systems history. Sure, once in awhile a  rock gets through, as the dinosaurs and witnesses to other major Extinction Level Events (ELE) will attest. But for the most part, Earth has enjoyed continuous habitability thanks to the presence of this giant at its doorstep.

And it appears that she is still taking asteroids for us, the latest occurring just two days ago. According to amateur astronomer Dan Petersen, the impact took place on Monday morning, at 11:35:30 UT. It was at this time that, while observing Jupiter, he had a brief glimpse of a blazing flash of light in the upper reaches of the planet’s cloudy atmosphere. Based on past observations, this is a strong indication that an impact event took place on her surface. If this is true, then Jupiter saved our butts yet again.

Naturally, the prospect that another asteroid could strike Earth and cause another ELE has been considered many times in the past. In fact, within the field of science-fiction, several novels and movies have been made detailing what scenarios our governments and space agencies to try and prevent it. That sounds like a good thematic post! I’ll get on it right now!