A house-sized asteroid flew by Earth earlier this week. Asteroid 2012 TC4 came close to our planet without causing much problem but the space rock could pose a real threat in the future.
Potential Impact On A Future Visit
The asteroid will return again in the future and the next visit could pose a dangerous threat. Passing by at an altitude of 27,300 miles, or just a few miles above the level of satellites in geosynchronous orbit, the asteroid flew by nearly twice as close as when it buzzed through our planet in 2012.
Recent models that aim to predict the future path of the asteroid have ruled out the possibility of an impact when Asteroid 2012 TC4 makes another close encounter with Earth in 2050. The visit in 2079, however, may come with unwanted consequences.
Researchers explained that the Earth's gravity alters the path of the asteroid every time it makes a close path and this may result in the asteroid hitting the planet in 2079. The odds of an impact happening 62 years from now are currently placed at about one in 750.
"We know today that it will also not hit the Earth in the year 2050, but the close flyby in 2050 might deflect the asteroid such that it could hit the Earth in the year 2079," said Rüdiger Jehn of the European Space Agency.
The extinction of the dinosaurs is popularly blamed on an asteroid hitting Earth. A 2016 study based on rock samples that were taken from the Chicxulub crater in Mexico revealed the force brought about by the killer space rock when it crashed on Earth about 65 million years ago.
The asteroid ripped a big hole on the Earth's surface and formed a mountain range twice taller than Mount Everest in less than 10 minutes. The event is believed to have triggered earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, wildfires and tsunamis.
Scientists have long been aware of the possibilities of an asteroid impact. Astrophysicist Alan Fitzsimmons, from the Queen's University in Belfast, Ireland, has said that an asteroid will possibly strike Earth in just a matter of time.
Asteroid-impact Early-warning System
Scientist now make preparations to prevent or at least minimize the impact of a collision and these include early detection of near-Earth objects, or NEOs.
Scientists said that the most recent flyby of Asteroid 2012 TC4 offered an opportunity to test the ability of a global asteroid-impact early-warning system.
"Asteroid trackers are using this flyby to test the worldwide asteroid detection and tracking network, assessing our capability to work together in response to finding a potential real asteroid-impact threat," said Michael Kelley, from NASA Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO).