Dec 14 (): Asteroid 2012 XE54 was only recently discovered on Sunday (Dec. 9) and it safely passed between the Earth and the Moon’s orbit at a distance of about 226,000 km (141,000 miles) or about .6 lunar distance from our planet at about 5 am EST (1000 GMT) Tuesday.
Luckily, there is no danger caused to Earth – but scientists say the unique occurrence could help them learn a lot about asteroids.
Astronomers estimate that 2012 XE54 is about 120 feet (36 meters) wide — big enough to cause considerable damage if it hits Earth someday. A similar size object flattened 800 square miles (2,000 square km) of forest when it blasted above Siberia’s Podkamennaya Tunguska River in 1908.
Researchers say, Asteroid 2012 XE54 passed through the Earth’s shadow few hours before its closest approach, causing an eclipse on the space rock’s surface.
Astronomer Pasquale Tricarico, of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Ariz said, “Asteroids eclipsing during an Earth flyby are relatively rare. Asteroid 2008 TC3 was totally eclipsed just one hour before entering Earth’s atmosphere over Sudan in 2008, and asteroid 2012 KT42 experiencing both an eclipse and a transit during the same Earth flyby in 2012.”
The detailed study of asteroids say while it is possible an asteroid of this size would produce nothing more than a brilliant fireball as it would disintegrate after entering the atmosphere, a direct hit by remaining rock chunks on a populated region could be disastrous.
Small asteroids are difficult to discover, usually detected within a week of their closest encounter, and that’s much too little time to do anything but issue a warning about the likely locations of impact. However, large and intermediate-sized asteroids can be detected and tracked years before any close encounter with Earth.
Asteroid 2012 XE54 will be coming back to Earth’s neighbourhood before too much longer. The asteroid completes one lap around the sun every 2.72 years.