NASA is preparing to test out its planetary defense systems on an asteroid that will come extremely close to Earth next week.
Asteroid TC4 will pass us by on October 12 at an estimated distance of 31,000 miles—that’s an eighth of the distance between our planet and the moon, so just a whisker in astronomical terms. About 50 feet wide, the asteroid poses absolutely no threat to Earth. But it presents NASA with an opportunity to practice for a real-life impact event.
Paul Chodas, manager of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, tells Newsweek what the space agency and other organizations around the globe are doing to perform this exercise—and how they plan to protect Earth from asteroids in the future.
What makes TC4 a good candidate for a planetary defense exercise?
We knew it was coming and we knew it would be approaching very close. That’s the reason we decided a year ago to use this as an exercise for the observing community—the whole process of what we would do if an asteroid were on a collision course with Earth.
Asteroids pass by Earth almost daily. But most of them are very small. Sometimes we have big ones but they don’t pass this close. It’s fairly rare to find an asteroid coming this close five years ahead of time. We knew it was coming so we could prepare our exercise months ahead. We didn’t know exactly how close, but knew it was likely to be within one lunar distance. It was a perfect example.