Is man doomed to go the way of the dinosaurs? It’s not likely according to NASA, but they keep a list of potentially hazardous asteroids just in case. One such asteroid came way too close for comfort nearly 15 years ago today.
It’s hard to say precisely which asteroid is most likely to pummel us Earthlings at some point in the future, but asteroid 4179, named “Toutatis,” is certainly high up on that list.
The giant hunk of rock was first sighted on February 10, 1934, but was lost soon after. It wasn’t seen again until January 4, 1989, when French astronomer Christian Pollas spotted it during observations of Jupiter’s satellites.
He named it after the Celtic God of tribal protection, Toutatis.
As far as anyone can tell, 4179 is pretty much a junk heap. Astronomers suspect that it is the result of one or more collisions in space, where random pieces of other asteroids broke off and fused together.
It’s not a pretty pile of rubble, that’s for sure. Plus, it appears to just randomly tumble through space. Unlike planets and other asteroids that travel on a smooth trajectory, Toutatis just kind of rolls around all willy-nilly. It is a complete anomaly.
A history of near misses
Toutatis has a habit of passing VERY close to our home planet.
In fact, we’ve had near run-ins with him on several occasions including: 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, 20012, and 2016.
It was the pass on September 29, 2004 that left everyone a little shook. At only 960,000 miles away, Toutatis was within 4 lunar distances from Earth.
That might seem like it’s not close – but as far as outer space goes, it’s virtually a haircut for the planet.
Luckily, Toutatis seems to be taking a breather. The next notable close approach will be on November 5, 2069.
Will Toutatis ever hit the earth?
In 2004, a chain e-mail falsely claimed that Toutatis had a 63 percent chance of impacting Earth that year. In reality, the chances of a collision in the distant future are considered to be very small.
NASA scientist Lance Benner says, “We already know that Toutatis will not hit Earth for hundreds of years. New observations will allow us to predict the asteroid’s trajectory even farther into the future.”
In fact, experts believe that 4179 will eventually be ejected from the solar system.