As usual, astronomers are reassuring us that the asteroidToutatis, which will be heading our way in September, won?timpact the Earth. And also as usual, warnings about animpending impact are flying across the internet. Who'stelling the truth?
Alan M. MacRobert writes in Sky & Telescope that whileastronomers insist it will be a flyby, 4179 Toutatis, whichwas first discovered in 1989 in France, will make itsclosest pass to Earth yet. On September 29, it will be theequivalent of four distances from the Earth to the Moon awayfrom our planet. This is a lot of space, but it's also theclosest it's been to us since 1353 and closest it will beuntil 2562.
Toutatis has an irregular, four-year orbit that carries itfrom the asteroid belt to just inside the orbit of Earth, soclose flybys are frequent. It's shaped like a bowling pinand has an erratic, tumbling motion that makes its movementshard to predict. This sort of motion is usually caused by acollision with another asteroid in the past. AstronomerSteven Ostro says, "The rotation of Toutatis is aremarkable, well-preserved relic of the collision-relatedevolution of an asteroid."
NASA has measured its orbit to the extent that they know itwon't hit the Earth for at least the next 65 years, and thechance of an impact is minimal for several hundred yearsafter that. However, they want to pinpoint its orbit moreexactly this time, so they can warn us about any impendingcollision in the future.
Half ourZetaReticuli booklets are gone, but we still have enough leftso that you can get one?if you hurry! Published by AstronomyMagazine in 1974, this is an original collector?s itemexamining the star map made by Betty Hill after her famousabduction with her husband, identifying the star system asZeta Reticuli. How to get one?Subscribe for 6months or one year and we?ll send you one free!
To learn how to spot Toutatis through your telescope,clickhere.
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