2.7 Miles Wide Asteroid 4179 Toutatis Will Buzz Past Earth

Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

Near-Earth asteroid 4179 Toutatis formerly known as 1989 AC with a shape of a “malformed potato” discovered by Christian Pollas on January 4, 1989, at Caussols, France, will pass at more than 18 Lunar Distance (6.9 million kilometers; 4.3 million miles) away from Earth.

4179 Toutatis
4179 Toutatis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This large asteroid 4.46 kilometers (2.7 miles) long and 2.4 kilometers (1.5 miles) wide classed as a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid makes an elliptical four-year trek around the sun that takes it from just inside Earth’s orbital path to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

On Wednesday, September 29, 2004, tumbling through space like a fumbled football, this malformed potato shaped asteroid came close as 1.55 million kilometers (962,951 miles) from earth – that’s very close in astronomical terms!

Large one kilometer or greater asteroids are far more rare and infrequent. There are only about 1,100 nearby large asteroids, and they are predicted to strike the Earth every half million years or so. However, scientists believe that asteroids that could cause mass extinctions are thought to be 10 kilometers or greater in diameter like the one that would have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Steven Ostro (1946 - 2008)
Steven Ostro (1946 – 2008)

In 2004, American scientist Steven J. Ostro (1946 – 2008) who worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California specializing in Radar astronomy said: “Radar images of the three-mile-long (4.6-kilometer-long) asteroid suggest it could be composed of two or three space rocks held together by gravity. But to know for sure would require drilling through the object.”

Asteroid 4179 Toutatis is known to have an erratic orbit. Scientists say Toutatis has one of the strangest rotation states yet observed in the solar system. Instead of spinning on a single axis – as do most asteroids and the planets, including our own Earth – Toutatis wobbles around two. The asteroid rotates around one axis once every 5.4 Earth days and, and then rotates around the other axis once every 7.3 Earth days. As such, “the orientation of the asteroid never repeats exactly,” Ostro said.

Asteroid 4179 Toutatis will pass by Earth on Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 6:40 AM UTC (1:40 AM EST). On this approach to Earth, Toutatis will pass within 4.3 million miles from Earth.


Toutatis might be barely visible through binoculars at its maximum brightness. However, it should be very bright through Slooh telescopes as it is being tracked. Slooh will webcast Toutatis views from a scope in the Canary Islands off the west coast of Africa beginning at starting at 20:00 UTC (12 PM PST / 3 PM EST) on December 11. Another show will follow at 03:00 UTC Wednesday (10 PM EST Tuesday) EST tonight (0300 GMT Wednesday), with footage from the Prescott Observatory in Arizona.


Streamed live on Dec 11, 2012: Slooh Space Camera tracked Asteroid Toutatis live from the Canary Islands – December 11th, 2012. This is the audio broadcast from the event – main broadcast was held on Slooh.com

Asteroid Toutatis 2012 – Show #1


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