Asteroid 2012 TC4 has been whizzing past Earth over the last few days in a historic flyby.
But now scientists say the asteroid’s orbit around the sun could lead it on to a collision course with Earth in the future.
The 30 metre-long asteroid flew past Earth at a distance of 27,300 miles – almost as low as where man-made satellites sit in orbit.
But according to tracking models, the asteroid’s path will be altered by Earth’s gravity in the future, and after a few more flybys, its trajectory could lead straight into Earth.
The next time 2012 TC4 passes at such a close distance will be in 2050, and at that point, the gravitational pull of Earth will affect the asteroid’s trajectory so the next time it swings around, in 2079, then it could collide.
Rüdiger Jehn of the European Space Agency (ESA) told AFP: “We know today that it will also not hit the Earth in the year 2050, but the close flyby in 2050 might deflect the asteroid such that it could hit the Earth in the year 2079.”
The ESA says that the chance of it hitting Earth in 2079 is about one in 750.
Fortunately for us on Earth, as 2012 TC4 is only a maximum of 30 metres, it is unlikely to be a threat to life on Earth.
Scientists say that if an impact occurs, it is likely to be similar to the Chelyabinsk incident.
In 2013, a meteor of similar size entered the atmosphere over the Russian town of Chelyabinsk.
The meteor exploded above the Russian town, damaging thousands of buildings and injuring 1,500 people in the process.
Nasa has released a video of 2012 TC4 as it zoomed past Earth.
The footage shows what looks like a flickering star moving diagonally from top left to bottom right.
Nasa is using the extremely close fly by to gather valuable data on the space rock.
Michael Kelley, programme scientist and Nasa Headquarters lead for the TC4 observation campaign, said: “Scientists have always appreciated knowing when an asteroid will make a close approach to and safely pass the Earth because they can make preparations to collect data to characterise and learn as much as possible about it.
“This time we are adding in another layer of effort, using this asteroid flyby to test the worldwide asteroid detection and tracking network, assessing our capability to work together in response to finding a potential real asteroid threat.”
Source : EXPRESS