Skip to comments.More on Asteroid Toutatis Passing Earth Sept 29th, 2004
Posted on 09/28/2004 5:34:19 PM PDT by missyme
A minor rumor has hatched on the Internet that a large and deadly asteroid will strike Earth this fall. Bulletin board discussions cite a 63 percent chance of impact, while concerned readers have e-mailed SPACE.com wondering if it is true.
Astronomers know of no such impending doom.
The rumors are likely rooted in a real event, however. On Sept. 29, 2004 an asteroid the size of a small city will make the closest known pass of such a very large space rock anytime this century.
While not dangerous for now, asteroid Toutatis is incredibly strange. And scientists are quite familiar with it, having bounced radar off the tumbling stone on previous flybys to generate computer renderings of its weird shape and movement.
Toutatis looks something like a dumbbell hurtling awkwardly through space. It has a crazy rotation that makes normal days impossible. Scientists can't explain the shape or the spin, but they're eager to learn more in September when, during the close pass, even backyard skywatchers will be able to spot the asteroid.
Well known path
The orbit of Toutatis is pinned down with better precision than any other large asteroid known to cross Earth's orbit. Toutatis' 4-year trek around the Sun ranges from just inside the Earth's path out to the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The asteroid visits us every four years.
This fall, it will zoom by our planet within a million miles, or about four times the distance to the Moon.
That's close by cosmic standards for an object that could cause global devastation. Toutatis hasn't been so near since the year 1353 and won't be that close again until 2562, NASA scientists have calculated. No other asteroid so large is known to have come so close in the past, though accurate tracking of space rocks is a fairly recent, high-tech skill that still leaves wide margins of error for many objects.
Toutatis is about 2.9 miles long and 1.5 miles wide (4.6 by 2.4 kilometers).
Many smaller space rocks have passed by much closer, well inside the Moon's orbit. Other asteroids in the size range of Toutatis have surely navigated that window, too, but were unseen in eras when the skies were not scanned so fully as today.
And throughout history, several asteroids and comets have hit the planet. In fact, an object the size of Mars hit Earth when it was very young, creating the Moon, scientists believe. But experts say the odds of a major collision in any year are extremely small. Any other near-Earth asteroid as big as Toutatis would almost surely be spotted decades or centuries before any possible impact.
The prediction of any such event would make huge news rather than small rumors.
Not dangerous, just bizarre
Asteroid Toutatis, officially numbered 4179, was discovered by French astronomers in 1989. Researchers can't predict far enough into the future to rule out Toutatis ever slamming into Earth, so it is listed officially as a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid. NASA says it won't hit for at least the next six centuries.
Meanwhile, previous close approaches have allowed intriguing radar examinations of one of the oddest things in space.
"The vast majority of asteroids and all the planets spin about a single axis, like a football thrown in a perfect spiral," explains Scott Hudson of Washington State University. "But Toutatis tumbles like a flubbed pass."
The result is a lack of anything resembling a normal day or night on the giant, pockmarked space rock.
Instead of a fixed north pole, Toutatis' axis of rotation wanders around in two separate cycles of 5.4 and 7.3 Earth-days. Stars seen from any location on the asteroid "would crisscross the sky, never following the same path twice,'' Hudson says.
More study planned
Steven Ostro at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has, with Hudson, studied Toutatis via radar on previous flybys. Ostro told SPACE.com that the population of near-Earth asteroids -- hundreds bigger than 0.6 miles (1 kilometer) have been found in the past six years or so -- are now known to come in "a zoo of shapes." And there are other asteroids that don't rotate on a single, main axis.
"But Toutatis remains the only non-principal-axis rotator in the solar system whose shape and spin state are well defined," Ostro said. More radar observations this year will try to further refine the spin rate and orbit.
There is more to learn. For starters, scientists also can't yet say if Toutatis has a hard surface or a thick layer of loose dirt similar to the Moon.
"I'd very much like to know whether Toutatis' strange shape and ponderously slow, wobbly rotation are the result of collisional breaking apart or a gentle merger of the asteroid's two lobes, and when the responsible phenomena happened," Ostro said.
Answers to all these big questions might require an as-yet-unplanned visit.
"Because of the radar investigations, our physical characterization of Toutatis is the best we have for any Potentially Hazardous Asteroid," Ostro said. "But a spacecraft rendezvous could tell us a great deal more, and I would love to see this happen."
Looking both ways
On Sept. 29, backyard skywatchers on Earth can find Toutatis, providing they know where to look.
Toutatis won't be visible to the unaided eye. Ordinary binoculars should be sufficient for spotting it if the sky is clear and dark, says Alan Harris, of the Space Science Institute in Boulder, CO.
"However, to actually know what you're seeing, a small telescope would be useful," Harris says. That will allow you to detect the slow motion of Toutatis against background stars. The asteroid will appear as a point of light, much like a star. It is too far for surface details to be visible.
It's also interesting to ponder what Earth would look like form Toutatis. Ostro points out a simple relationship between the distance of Toutatis at this close approach and the size of the Moon. Toutatis will be four times farther than the Moon; the Moon is about ¼ the size of Earth.
"If you were on Toutatis and looked at Earth during the close approach, the Earth would look as large as the Full Moon does to us."
Isn't it possible for a peice of the Dumbell Size Asteroid coming apart striking earth? who knows maybe it will strike Mecca?
You don't think a chunk of Asteroid could come off striking earth?
This asteroid won't hit Earth. There are plenty of asteroids out in our Solar System, known as Near Earth Object (NEO). Sometimes in the future, an asteroid or comet may hit Earth and have catastrophic results. That is where astronomers, professional and amateurs come in hand, looking for asteroids with telescopes and CCD cameras.
There is a movie of the astroid going by on www.spaceweather.com
I vote for a large breakup and impact on Mecca, Medina, the Kaaba, Riyadh, Tehran, Falluja, Najaf, Damascas, the eastern part of Ottawa...and PARIS!
I'm wearing clean underwear tomorrow.
If an asteroid like this does hit us, then all this worrying will have done us no good at all because we will all be dead.
How will it affect the polls.
Jimmy Carter will declare that all those killed by the asteroid would have voted for Kerry, but were disenfranchised.
Thanks, I needed that...I love the smell of...in the morning...
What do you think about the Red moon tonight and the earthquake volcanoe situation in Washington and California?
Are you going to check out the Moon tonight?
Does that mean the courts will order a chard count?
It's overcast here, the remnants of Jeanne. But thanks for the picture in the absence of a clear sky.
Astronomers know of no such impending doom.
If they did, do you suppose they would tell us?
Red moon was spooky. I hear there is a possible volcanic eruption brewing in Hawaii also.
Its all Bush's fault. Somehow global warming will pull it closer... I can see the next MoveOn ad.
This could be a description of the Kerry campaign.
Seeing as we're less than 4 years into the century, why not rephrase this as:
"The rumors are likely rooted in a real event, however. On Sept. 29, 2004 an asteroid the size of a small city will make the closest known pass of such a very large space rock in the last 4 years."?
NO why would they?
What do the scientists do if they establish, with a high degree of probablity, for example, that a large asteroid will strike the earth?
Do we just hang around waiting for the inevitable.
Blowing it up may not be practical and might be more dangerous, I suspect. If we calculate, for example, that a large asteroid will hit earth on a future pass, can we take advantage of earlier 'close' passes to maybe bombard it with some kind of chemical combo to dissolve it (maybe over years) into something much less destructive?
That was always my idea how to avert the disaster, but I am not a scientist - in fact, I'm widely regarded as an idiot. :-)
Or is all this skywatching so that we will have some notice of a catastrophe, so at the very least we can get it catered and arrange for a good band.
Perfect strike....may God pump his fist in delight at such a direct hit.
This could be a description of the Kerry campaign
Except the Kerry campaign is going to be hurtling into the ground.
Yes I heard that too? Which Island is that?
Okay not to be hokie pokie But we have had some strange weather and how do Astronmers really know if this Asteroid is not pulling on some kind of magnet wave causing gravity pool on earth...They are science guessers IMO
I got up an hour and a half before dawn this morning, and even looking out the window before venturing to the yard, I could see how bright that virtually full moon was. It didn't pass the hills to the west for another half hour or so.
Gee only 3/4 of the way through the fourth year of the Twenty First Century, and they are already spouting this phrase, as if they can read the future so very well.
It is the ones they don't know about that need to be worried over.
On Sept. 29, backyard skywatchers on Earth can find Toutatis, providing they know where to look.
But, you, oh Omniscient Writer, will keep that a secret from the Lowly Reader.
Ordinary binoculars should be sufficient for spotting it if the sky is clear and dark,
But, since the moon was full last night, not much chance of that, now is there?
Ostro points out a simple relationship between the distance of Toutatis at this close approach and the size of the Moon. Toutatis will be four times farther than the Moon; the Moon is about ¼ the size of Earth.
Makes me wonder what the relative brightness would be of Luna vs Terra from that sucker???????
Guess I better toddle over to Sky & Telescope....
Was it a Harvest Moon?
I think people living in the East should tell us in the West what the Moon looks like now Since it's 9 p.m
I believe the Harvest Moon is the first full moon after the first day of Fall. I'm open to correction.
From here the moon looks like a big ol' cloud that... Oh. That is a big ol' cloud, doggone it.
A few months ago NASA was about to warn Bush that an asteroid was on a course that if changed by 1 degree would hit earth. They had planned in suggesting A Bomb Missles to go against if if the course changed. It did not.
Geologist have mentioned California for a near future quake. Vesuvius, Etna, Hiwaii, Helens and the national park in Colorado/Nevada as locations for eruptions
You and me could of made those perdictions...
It is easy to know where it is going to be, when. They "grab" magnetic lines of force with their monoples, and roll along them.
Kind of like ships using lines of longitude to climb from the tropics towards the higher latitudes.
What if it changes course like a hurricaine?
...because they are including the next 96 years of this century for all known asteroids.
Wrongly of course, since we don't know what catastrophe lies ahead and when it would hit.
What was the asteroid they found a couple days after it nearly hit Earth about 3-4 years ago? It came in from the Sun side and no one could see it until it had passed by.
Hurricanes are steered by the trade winds and the Jet stream. There's no such current out in space. It would be just as likely for the earth to change course randomly.
"This could be a description of the Kerry campaign"
My thoughts also......"But Toutatis tumbles like a flubbed pass."
Okay, but this is a big space rock that being the case why can't a peice break off and hurl at earth?
Only severe sun spots can cause that to happen; they tangle the magnetic lines. That what the solar observatories are for.
Last spring they were so bad that they knotted up to the point of turning one of the TV satellites inside out, and and it started beaming what everybody's TV was seeing back to the studio! They had to launch a replacement.
Even if a piece broke off on its own, it would more than likely follow the laws of physics and travel along with the main asteroid, same path and speed, like an astronaut stepping outside the space station. It would take tremendous force to alter even a small piece of Toutatis to a course toward earth at this point.
What about Post#38
It would take a massive internal force to liberate and re-direct a chuck of rock to hurtle toward Earth. There is no massive force available on that dead rock.
Again, sounding like the Kerry campaign. Is this cool, or what?
hehhehheh! Good one!
Well it just seems to me after:
4 Major Hurricaines in Florida
A Moderate Size Earthquake in California Happened Today
Volcanic Activity blowing up in Washington and Hawaii
(Currently Going on)
Alaska Earthquake Happened today
Harvest Red Full Moon Tonight
A Big Asteroid Passing Earth
Something is going On???????
Leg pulling! Go back & re-read #29. Ships don't "climb" lines of longitude, either.
Kerry a/k/a Toutatis, "son" of Dukakis...
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