It's always a good policy to try to get along with the neighbors. But it's hard to do when the neighbors crowd in a little too close.
That's the case with an asteroid that's flying past Earth tomorrow. It'll pass about four and a half million miles away -- about 20 times the distance to the Moon.
Toutatis was discovered less than 20 years ago. But it's in an orbit that brings it close to Earth about every four years. Its last approach was the closest for several centuries. Even so, it's a neighbor that'll bear close watching as it continues to orbit the Sun.
Toutatis is one of several hundred asteroids that can pass close to Earth. Some of their orbits allow them to move inside our own, so they could present a danger. If an asteroid as big as a small office building were to hit Earth, it could destroy a city. And one the size of Toutatis, which is a couple of miles long, could devastate life across most of the planet.
Over the last decade or so, astronomers have started several projects to find potentially dangerous asteroids and plot their orbits. Precise measurements can tell us if any of them are on a collision course. And with a long-enough lead-time, it should be possible to deflect one that's headed our way.
Toutatis itself isn't much of a threat. Current calculations show that its upcoming passes will keep it at least several million miles away -- a bit close, but enough of a gap to keep things neighborly.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2008
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