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Asteroid close approach to test warning systems

From BBC - October 11, 2017

An asteroid the size of a house is set to pass close to the Earth on Thursday.

The space rock will hurtle past our planet at a distance of about 42,000km (26,000 miles), bringing it within the Moon's orbit and just above the altitude of communication satellites.

Nasa scientists say there is no risk of an impact, but the flyby does provide them with the opportunity to test their asteroid-warning systems.

A global network of telescopes will be closely monitoring the object.

Paul Chodas, manager of Nasa's Centre for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, told BBC News: "We are going to use this asteroid to practise the system that would observe an asteroid, characterise it and compute how close it is going to come, in case some day we have one that is on the way inbound and might hit."

'No threat'

The asteroid, called 2012 TC4, was first spotted five years ago.

It is estimated to be between 15m and 30m (50-100ft) in size, which is relatively small.

However, even space rocks on this scale are dangerous if they strike.

When a 20m-wide asteroid exploded over Chelyabinsk in central Russia in 2013, it hit the atmosphere with energy estimated to be equivalent to 500,000 tonnes of TNT, causing a shockwave that damaged buildings and injured more than a thousand people.

Nasa scientists who have spent the last two months tracking this new rocky visitor say their calculations show that it will safely clear the Earth and poses no threat.

Instead, they will use this close approach to rehearse for future potential strikes.

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