The asteroid 2012 TC4 is expected to pass pretty close to the Earth on the 12th of October 2017. Its size is not yet known. Nor is the exact distance when it will be its closest to our planet. Are we in danger?
Scientists are forever observing the sky, on the look-out for massive heavenly bodies that might constitute a danger for the inhabitants of our planet. As such, 2012 TC4 was discovered by the Pan-STARRS observatory based in Hawaii. It passed by the Earth at a distance of 94,800 km a week after it was spotted. According to previous data, it came near to our planet in the past as well.
The observations made in October 2012 suggest that its size might be from 12 to 40 meters; it is said that it narrowly missed the Earth back then.
Is its estimated size considered to be dangerous to us? We can only speculate. Let the recorded numbers so far speak for themselves. The meteor that hit Russia in February 2013, injuring 1 500 people and damaging more than 7,000 buildings was 20 meters wide. This indicates that 2012 TC4 might be even more hazardous.
“It is something to keep an eye on,” Judit Györgyey-Ries, astronomer at the University of Texas’ McDonald Observatory, told astrowatch.net. “We could see an airburst maybe broken windows, depending on where it hits.”
The question remains: will it hit us? Scientists have attempted to calculate the risk of a possible impact.
“It has a 0.00055% cumulative chance that it will hit,” Györgyey-Ries said. “The fact that the MOID [minimum orbit intersection distance] is only 0.079 LD flags it as a possible impactor. However it is just the smallest possible distance between the orbits.”
“There is one in a million chance that it could hit us,” Detlef Koschny, from the Space Situational Awareness (SSA) programme office, told astrowatch.net. “The size was estimated from the brightness, but we don’t know the reflectivity. So it could be smaller or larger, assume from 10 m to 40 m. A 40 m iron object would go through the atmosphere and make a crater; a 10 m rocky object would be hardly noticed.”
NASA’s Asteroid Watch has reassured the public that there is no risk of the asteroid hitting us.
Additionally, another scientist, Makoto Yoshikawa of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), is of the opinion that our planet is not vulnerable to the asteroid. He stated that the distance, even if small, does not necessarily mean that the asteroid will hit us.
Still, Györgyey-Ries has said that more observations should be made to decrease the uncertainties.
“Although it has a large uncertainty along the orbit, it is much less than the radial uncertainty, so it just changes the time of the closest flyby. I would say based on this, that there is no chance of impact in 2017, but more observations could help to reduce the uncertainties,” she said.