The asteroid Toutatis is captured by NASA's Goldstone radar as it passes by Earth. REUTERS/NASA/JPL/Caltech/Handouty/Handout
A large asteroid that flies in nearly the same orbit as Earth
will make a close pass by the planet, but there's no chance
of an impact - at least for hundreds of years, astronomers
The asteroid, named Toutatis, flies by Earth every four
years. During its closest approach on Wednesday (US time),
the celestial rock will pass about 7 million km from Earth,
which is about 18 times farther away than the moon.
"There is no danger of a collision with Earth," NASA
astronomer Lance Benner said in a statement.
The 4.3km-long asteroid circles the sun in an orbit that is
very closely aligned with Earth's, making it a potentially
hazardous object for the future.
The asteroid was first spotted in 1934 and its orbit was
confirmed in 1989. In 2004, Toutatis passed by Earth just
four times farther away than the moon, much closer than this
Astronomers are using radar and optical telescopes to get a
better fix on the asteroid's location, its unusual spin and
the flight path in hopes of refining estimates on where it
will travel in the future.
"We already know that Toutatis will not hit Earth for
hundreds of years," Benner said. "These new observations will
allow us to predict the asteroid's trajectory even farther
into the future."