A huge asteroid will pass Earth tonight, and everybody can watch the action live online.
The near-Earth asteroid called 4179 Toutatis, which is over 3 miles wide, will zoom within 4.3 million miles of our planet during its closest approach early Wednesday morning. This is far away for thinking about any threat on his pass, but close enough to put on a pretty good show through top-notch telescopes, researchers say.
Slooh.com will webcast Toutatis views from a scope in the Canary Islands off the west coast of Africa beginning at 3 p.m. EST today. Another show will follow at 10 p.m. EST tonight, with footage from an instrument in Arizona. You can watch them at Slooh’s website.
The Minor Planet Center lists the asteroid passing Earth as a potentially hazardous object, meaning that it could pose a threat to Earth at some point in the future. At its closest approach, which comes at 1:40 a.m. Wednesday, Toutatis will still be 18 times farther away from Earth than the moon is.
Toutatis would cause catastrophic damage if it ever did slam into our planet. In general, scientists think a strike by anything at least 0.6 miles wide could have global consequences, most likely by altering the world’s climate for many years.
“Slooh technical staff will let the public follow this fast-moving asteroid in two different ways. In one view, the background stars will be tracked at their own rate and the asteroid will appear as an obvious streak or a moving time-lapse dot across the starry field,” Astronomy Magazine columnist Bob Berman said in a statement.
“In a second view, Toutatis itself will be tracked and held steady as a tiny, point-like object, while Earth’s spin makes the background stars whiz by as streaks,” Berman added. “Both methods will make the asteroid’s speedy orbital motion obvious as it passes us in space.”
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