December 14, 2012, 5:24 PM —
Source: andrewsrj via Flickr
The asteroid Toutatis this week passed a mere 4.3 million miles from Earth, which is more than close enough for my taste. Large asteroids hitting our planet (Toutatis is about three miles wide) tend to cause minor problems such as the extinction of numerous species and the end of life as we know it.
Toutatis, as Space.com explains, circles the Sun every four years, but it won't come near Earth again until November 2069, when it will fly a mere 1.8 million miles near the Earth.
Fortunately, you don't have to wait until then to get a good look at Toutatis. NASA captured some video of the asteroid on Wednesday and Thursday using solar system radar.
The grainy 64-frame movie shows a giant rock against a black background as the rock rotates in a wobbly fashion. (NASA also explains that in the video, "the rotation of the asteroid appears faster than it occurs in nature" and that "asteroids in mirror are closer than they appear." OK, I made up the second one.)
By the way, if you're wondering what it looks like when an asteroid collides with Earth -- known in scientific circles as an "impact event" -- this website run by Purdue University is worth checking out. It's called Impact Earth, and it allows users to input different data points for a hypothetical asteroid "event," such as the diameter and density of the asteroid, its speed and angle of impact, whether it hits water or land, and your distance from the impact. (Hint: There are no good outcomes.)
The NASA video of Toutatis is below.