A giant asteroid will make a flyby of Earth over the next few days, and armchair astronomers can watch the action live on their computers.
The near-Earth asteroid 4179 Toutatis, which is about 3 miles wide, will zoom within 4.3 million miles of Earth during its closest approach early Wednesday morning. That’s too far away to pose any impact threat on this pass, but close enough to put on a pretty good show through top-notch telescopes, researchers say.
And some of those scopes will be tracking Toutatis’ movements for the benefit of skywatchers around the world. The online Slooh Space Camera and Virtual Telescope Project, for example, will both stream live, free footage of the asteroid from professional-quality observatories.
Slooh will webcast Toutatis views from a scope in the Canary Islands off the west coast of Africa beginning at 3 p.m. EST today (Dec. 11). Another show will follow at 10 p.m. EST Tuesday night, with footage from an instrument in Arizona. You can watch them at Slooh’s website here: http://events.slooh.com/
Both shows will feature commentary from Slooh President Patrick Paolucci and Astronomy Magazine columnist Bob Berman.
Meanwhile, the Virtual Telescope Project — which is run by Gianluca Masi of Bellatrix Astronomical Observatory in Italy — will offer its own free webcast Thursday at 3 p.m. EST, complete with commentary from astrophysicists.
You can see that video stream here: http://www.virtualtelescope.eu/
Asteroid Toutatis was first viewed in 1934, then officially discovered in 1989. It makes one trip around the sun every four years.
The Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Mass., lists Toutatis as a potentially hazardous object, meaning that it could pose a threat to our planet at some point in the future. The current flyby is no cause for concern, however. 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 Earth. 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 to come.
For comparison, the asteroid thought to have wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago was an estimated 6 miles across.