NASA using asteroid’s close flyby to test warning network

(AP) — NASA is using an asteroid’s close flyby to test Earth’s warning network for incoming space rocks.

The small asteroid was on track to pass within 27,200 miles (43,800 kilometers) of Antarctica early Thursday.

Program scientist Michael Kelley said that’s “pretty close” as these things go. But he stressed there’s no chance it will hit us. Future space rocks might, though — thus this first-of-its-kind cosmic fire drill.

“You never expect your office building to catch fire and to be trapped in there, but you have fire drills anyway,” he said Wednesday. “That’s what I’ve been using as kind of an analogy to what we’re doing here.”

Related Content: SpaceX launches communications satellite, lands booster

Observatories worldwide — part of the International Asteroid Warning Network — have been zooming in on the asteroid called 2012 TC4 for weeks to test communication and coordination. Kelley said it’s gone well.

Until now, researchers relied on “tabletop” tests, simulations with no actual asteroids involved. The exercise will continue for another week, as observatories keep tracking the asteroid as it departs Earth’s neighborhood.

First spotted in 2012 and then disappearing from view until this past July, the asteroid is estimated to measure 45 feet to 100 feet (14 to 30 meters.). Kelley said astronomers should have a better handle on the shape and size of the rock — which they believe is oblong, like a potato — in coming days and weeks, as more observations pour in.

Scientists picked this particular asteroid because they knew it did not threaten Earth, yet had some uncertainty in its path. That uncertainty is what provided the challenge for observers, all volunteers in this project. They are using major telescopes in Hawaii and Arizona, among other places. Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory got knocked out by last month’s Hurricane Maria and could not take part.

Related Content: Elon Musk is aiming to land spaceships on Mars in 2022

Backyard astronomers have little chance of seeing the asteroid, according to Kelley, given its speed and faintness. It won’t be visible with the naked eye. The closest approach: 1:40 a.m. EDT Thursday.

The communication lines for the test have extended all the way to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and even the White House, according to Kelley, who’s leading the effort for NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office.

Another test — using another actual asteroid headed harmlessly our way — is planned in the next few years.

WTNH NEWS8 provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review. Also, you can now block any inappropriate user by simple selecting the drop down menu on the right of any comment and selection "Block User" from there.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s