NASA Network ignites self-test as near-Earth asteroid flies past in October


Although it's too early to predict exactly how near it will come to Earth, scientists are confident it will come no closer than 4,200 miles (6,800km) from the planet's surface.

2012 TC4 was first discovered on 5 October 2012 by the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) from Haleakala on the island of Maui, Hawaii, when it passed around 96,000km from the Earth - about a quarter of the distance to the Moon.

Paul Chodas, manager of NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), said the asteroid is an ideal target for the tests.

United States space agency NASA is preparing to test limitations and strengths of its network of observatories when a small asteroid is expected to fly-by Earth in October, said its team of researchers who believe that the celestial object is orbiting at a far safer distance.

"The goal of the TC4 exercise is to recover, track and characterise 2012 TC4 as a potential impactor in order to exercise the entire system from observations, modelling, prediction and communication", the university says.

Professor Vishnu Reddy, who is leading the campaign, said: 'This is a team effort that involves more than a dozen observatories, universities and labs across the globe so we can collectively learn the strengths and limitations of our near-Earth object observation capabilities.

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The 2012 TC4 was first discovered by Pan-STARRS 1 telescope on October 5, 2012, at Haleakala Observatory on Maui, Hawaii.

NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office, or PDCO, the federal entity in charge of coordinating efforts to protect Earth from hazardous asteroids, accepted Reddy's idea to conduct an observational campaign as part of assessing its Earth-based defense network and identified the upcoming close approach of 2012 TC4 as a good opportunity to conduct the exercise. "This effort will exercise the entire system, to include the initial and follow-up observations, precise orbit determination, and worldwide communications".

The TC4 asteroid is estimated to be slightly larger than the one that had hit Russian town Chelyabinsk in February 2013 but the focus this time is on its trajectory, to "nail down its exact path".

"This is the flawless target for such an exercise because while we know the orbit of 2012 TC4 well enough to be absolutely certain it will not impact Earth, we haven't established its exact path just yet", said Paul Chodas, manager of the CNEOS at JPL.

'It will be incumbent upon the observatories to get a fix on the asteroid as it approaches, and work together to obtain follow-up observations than make more refined asteroid orbit determinations possible'.