Our Close Encounter with Asteroid 2013 TX68

The Earth gets hits with tens of thousands of meteorites per year. Occasionally one gets close enough to garner more attention from astronomers.

Possible fly-by points of Asteroid 2013 TX6: image credit NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

On October 6th, 2013 astronomers discovered a brand new object that was zipping by two million kilometers away from our planet. Using telescopes located in Tuscan, Arizona that make up the Catalina Sky Survey program, astronomers had discovered a new Apollo-type asteroid now dubbed 2013 TX68.

After three days of observation they determined that this 100-foot object would come very close to Earth again in March 2016, but it should not hit the planet.

An Apollo asteroid is a piece of rock that floats in space close to Earth’s orbit. There are currently almost 7000 known Apollo asteroids floating near the same orbit as our planet.

Right now we are not too sure how close 2013 TX68 will fly by Earth in March 2016. It could pass us as far as 14 million kilometers away or come as close as some of our communication satellites at 17,000 kilometers. That’s a pretty big variance!

These two estimates are so far apart because after three days of tracking the object in 2013, it was lost from view.

Catalina Sky Survey 60-Inch Telescope
Catalina Sky Survey’s 60-Inch Telescope in Tuscan, Arizona. (credit: Catalina Sky Survey, University of Arizona

Where did it go you ask? Oh it’s still out there heading back around to us. But due to its relatively small size and dimness, it was lost when its trajectory took it in front of the sun. We know it’s coming back but the Catalina Sky Survey hasn’t been able to locate it yet. Most likely we won’t detect Asteroid 2013 TX68 again until it is only a few days from its closest approach to Earth sometime in early March 2016.

When we do finally find Asteroid 2013 TX68, astronomers will be working overtime to confirm its trajectory. If we discover that Asteroid 2013 TX68 is not in the place we expect it to be, we need to make sure that it has not moved any closer to an impact with Earth.

If Asteroid 2013 TX68 hit the Earth, the result would be horrific for the immediate area around the impact. An object that size would either explode violently in the air, crash into the sea or devastate the land with the force of 50 Hiroshima atomic bombs.

Once we learn out the status of Asteroid 2013 TX68, we’ll update Space Explained with the details!

UPDATE:
Asteroid TX68 passed Earth safely on March 7, 2016 at 13:42 UTC (08:42 EST) at a distance of 4 million kilometers (or about 10 times the Earth’s distance from the Moon). Whew!

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