Dec 172012

(4179) Toutatis takes 4 years to orbit the Sun. At it’s furthest point it is just inside Jupiter’s orbit; at it’s closest, just inside Earth’s.  These conditions lead to frequent close approaches between Earth and Toutatis.  The most recent was on the 12th of December 2012.  The distance between them was about 18 Lunar Distances (LD).  The asteroid is roughly peanut shaped with the longest axis being about 2.8 miles in length.  



Although the Minor Planet Center classifies the body as a potentially hazardous asteroid (PHA), current modeling shows no threat of an Earth impact for at least 600 years.  That is about the limit of current orbit simulations for Toutatis.  It’s orbit is resonant with both Jupiter and Earth leading to a chaotic orbit and increasingly inaccurate predictions.  The next reasonable close approach will be in 2069 and somewhat closer at 8 LD.

This video consists of 90 ten second images taken about 10 seconds apart, showing about 30 minutes of motion.  The flash obvious just to the left of the asteroid’s path is probably a satellite.  At the time, Toutatis was crossing the constellation Pisces.

I measured the asteroid’s brightness at an average magnitude of 10.6 making this easily visible in a backyard telescope.

 Posted by at 15:07

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