On December 12, asteroid 4179 Toutatis will make its closest approach to our planet. At an impressive length of 5 Km., Toutatis is the largest PHA (potentially hazardous asteroid) on a long list of near earth calamities. Passing by at a distance of 7 million Km., Toutatis will come and go, most people none the wiser.
China may be the envy of astronomers; their Chang’E 2 lunar orbiter is estimated to pass within a few hundred Kms of Toutatis on Dec. 13. This enviable front row seat doesn’t come with a guarantee to capture the show; its unclear if the Chang’E fixed cameras will be able to capture images.
Discovered by Christian Pollas in 1989, Toutatis in known for an erratic orbit. In 2004 it came within 1.5 million Km. Still no reason to loose sleep – projections for the next 600 years show it will pass as nothing more than a streak in the night sky.
A computer-generated model of the near-Earth asteroid 4179 Toutatis.
Image courtesy Michael Busch