Earth not out of woods after Wednesday's asteroid pass

5:39 PM, Dec 12, 2012   |    comments
Image from a NASA animation of asteroid Toutatis
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(WXIA) -- The three-mile wide Toutatis asteroid zoomed past Earth Wednesday, but there are other space rocks that may zoom closer to our planet in the upcoming months.

When Toutatis -- or as scientists call it, 4179 Toutatis -- passed by, it was more than 4 million miles from Earth, or about 18 times the distance from Earth to the moon.

Two other asteroids will pass closer over the next week, and a third one, on February 15, will pass so close to surface of Earth, that it will pass below the altitude of some communications satellites.

NASA scientists said in a release this week that Toutatis is well known to astronomers, and passes Earth's orbit every four years. They said it does not pose a threat to Earth on this pass, but that they will be able to examine the asteroid more closely than they have in the past.

"There is no danger of a collision with Earth," says Lance Benner of NASA's Near Earth Object Program. "At closest approach on Dec. 12, asteroid 4179 Toutatis will be 7 million km away or 18 times farther than the Moon."

On Sunday, a 102 foot wide asteroid will pass about 740,000 miles away, and a 40 foot wide one will pass about the same distance away on December 23. The real close shave comes on February 15, when the 187 foot long asteroid 2012 DA14 will pass only 21,000 miles above the surface. That will pass below the 26,000 mile orbits of geosynchronous satellites like those used for DirecTV and SiriusXM.

Astronomers say these asteroids shouldn't hit the earth, but they continue to scan the heavens, looking for other near-Earth asteroids that may pose a hazard to the planet in the future.

Significant asteroid impacts have happened before in Earth's past, and scientists say future major impacts are not out of the question.

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