An asteroid impacting Earth would be a huge catastrophe. The odds of that happening are roughly one in 10,000. Though it is an unlikely scenario, NASA scientists have been preparing for such a space-based threat. On October 12, an asteroid is set to speed past Earth, and scientists at NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) are planning to use the opportunity to test their systems.
NASA Will Test Its Planetary Defense Systems
Scientists at NASA do not know much about the asteroid that is going to fly past Earth on October 12. Dubbed “2012 TC4,” the asteroid is considered small by asteroid standards, at only about 30 to 100 feet in size (9 to 30 meters). Though it will not hit our planet, it is expected to get within 4,200 miles (6,800 kilometers) from the Earth’s surface.
In late 2009, according to Space.com, an asteroid with an estimated diameter of 16 to 33 feet (5 to 10 meters) hit Indonesia and released the equivalent of 110,000 pounds of TNT when it exploded. 2012 TC4 is not so much a threat as an opportunity for NASA to test its planetary defense systems.
Astronomers were only able to catch a fleeting glimpse of TC4 when it flew past Earth in 2012, at a distance much closer than that of the Moon. It only allowed astronomers to study it for seven days before moving out of telescope range, so all we know about this asteroid is based on data gathered back then.
Observation campaign lead Michael Kelley stated:
“This time we are adding in another layer of effort, using this asteroid flyby to test the worldwide asteroid detection and tracking network, assessing our capability to work together in response to finding a potential real asteroid threat.”
According to reports, over a dozen observatories, universities and labs across the globe will collectively analyze our strengths and limitations when dealing with space objects such as asteroids which could wipe us out.
Paul Chodas from NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies stated:
“It will be incumbent upon the observatories to get a fix on the asteroid as it approaches, and work together to obtain follow-up observations than make more refined asteroid orbit determinations possible,”
What Is the Planetary Defense Coordination Office?
The Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) was established last year, with the goal of monitoring the skies in search of hazardous objects that could pose a threat if they ever got close enough to us.
The program uses powerful ground-based telescopes from around the world, as well as a space-based infrared telescope, to help astronomers learn about potential impact timing, location, and effects.
To date, over 13,500 near-Earth objects have been discovered, and roughly 1,500 new ones are detected every year. If one were ever to head towards Earth, NASA hopes to be able to deflect or redirect it.