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Update: 3-Mile-Wide Asteroid XE54 Passes Just 226,000km From Earth

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December 12, 2012

Late last week Shepard Ambellas of The Intel Hub wrote about the possibility of a massive new object moving towards earth.

Last Weeks article stated that:

“NASA’s Stereo Behind HI-2 Camera shows some startling footage as an amazing discovery has been found.  A massive object with a tail appears to be moving toward earth at a rapid rate. “This does not look like the typical Sun Grazer coming in as it is in a very different path” states the maker of the video.  This object has been captured by NASA equipment over the last several weeks.”

Now in the past few days a newly discovered asteroid, possibly the same one that Shepard wrote about last week, has passed earth safety, but still came a bit too close for comfort.  Asteroid 2012 XE54 was over 3 miles wide, and while it was no danger to earth, it did come close enough for scientists to gather data that they have never been able to before, so the close proximity may have been a blessing in disguise.

The Daily Mail reported that:

“As Earth prepares for a double flyby of asteroids in the next day, astronomers have created this unique view of the earth – from an asteroid as it passes close by.  This animation shows the Sun and the Earth as observed from the asteroid 2012 XE54, which alongside a long-studied giant space rock named Toutatis will pass close to Earth later today.

Luckily, there is no danger of either hitting Earth – but scientists say the unique occurrence could help them learn a lot about asteroids.  Asteroid 2012 XE54 was only recently discovered, and will safely pass between the Earth and the Moon’s orbit at a distance of about 226,000 km (141,000 miles) or about .6 lunar distances.

However, it will have a unique path.

‘A close analysis of the trajectory of this asteroid reveals that it will likely cross the Earth’s shadow, causing a partial eclipse of the asteroid a few hours before reaching its minimum distance with the Earth,’ said Pasquale Tricarico of the Planetary Science Institute.  Asteroids eclipsing during an Earth flyby are relatively rare, with the first known case of asteroid 2008 TC3 which was totally eclipsed just one hour before entering Earth’s atmosphere over Sudan in 2008, and asteroid 2012 KT42 experiencing both an eclipse and a transit during the same Earth flyby in 2012.”
The article also explained that another asteroid is set to pass Earth soon as well, and apparently this one can be potentially dangerous someday because it passes our orbit every four years.  Reading on:

“The asteroid is one of two set to pass by Earth.  4179 Toutatis, with a shape that has been described as a ‘malformed potato’ will pass 6.9 million kilometers (4.3 million miles) away from Earth, or more than 18 times the distance from the Earth to the Moon.

At 4.46 kilometers (2.7 miles) long and 2.4 kilometers (1.5 miles) wide, astronomers say it is considered a potentially hazardous asteroid because it makes repeated passes by the Earth, about every four years.  In comparison, the asteroid that is thought to have destroyed the dinosaurs was approximately 10 km (6 miles) wide.  It’s passing will be streamed online by the Slooh Space Camera.  At its maximum brightness, experts say Toutatis might be barely visible through binoculars.”

Initial reports had described the asteroid as being much smaller, estimating that it would be between 50 and 165 feet across (15-50 meters across), leaving us to wonder if these original figures were downplayed to avoid panic, just in case we did happen to fall in its path.

The Intel Hub will continue to bring you updates on this increased activity in space as various stories develop.

The following video simulation shows Asteroid Toutatis:

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