Asteroid Toutatis slowly tumbles by Earth
|Radar imagery of asteroid Toutatis taken by NASA's Goldstone Solar System Radar on Dec. 12 and 13, 2012 [Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech]|
The orbit of Toutatis is well understood. The next time Toutatis will approach at least this close to Earth is in November of 2069, when the asteroid will safely fly by at about 7.7 lunar distances, or 1.8 million miles (3 million kilometers). An analysis indicates there is zero possibility of an Earth impact over the entire interval over which its motion can be accurately computed, which is about the next four centuries.
The images that make up the movie clip were generated with data taken on Dec. 12 and 13, 2012. On Dec. 12, the day of its closest approach to Earth, Toutatis was about 18 lunar distances, 4.3 million miles (6.9 million kilometers) from Earth. On Dec. 13, the asteroid was about 4.4 million miles (7 million kilometers), or about 18.2 lunar distances. The resolution in the image frames is 12 feet (3.75 meters) per pixel [Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech]
This radar data imagery will help scientists improve their understanding of the asteroid's spin state, which will also help them understand its interior.
NASA detects, tracks and characterizes asteroids and comets passing close to Earth using both ground- and space-based telescopes. The Near-Earth Object Observations Program, commonly called "Spaceguard," discovers these objects, characterizes a subset of them, and plots their orbits to determine if any could be potentially hazardous to our planet.
JPL manages the Near-Earth Object Program Office for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
Source: NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory [December 16, 2012]