Asteroid Toutatis slowly tumbles by earth

Asteroid Toutatis slowly tumbles by earth
Radar imagery of asteroid Toutatis taken by NASA's Goldstone Solar System Radar on Dec. 12 and 13, 2012. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

(Phys.org)—Scientists working with NASA's 230-foot-wide (70-meter) Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, Calif., have generated a series of radar data images of a three-mile-long (4.8-kilometer) asteroid that made its closest approach to Earth on Dec. 12, 2012.

The radar data images of have been assembled into a short movie, available online at: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/video/index.php?id=1175 .

The images that make up the movie clip were generated with data taken on Dec. 12 and 13, 2012. On Dec. 12, the day of its closest approach to Earth, Toutatis was about 18 lunar distances, 4.3 million miles (6.9 million kilometers) from Earth. On Dec. 13, the was about 4.4 million miles (7 million kilometers), or about 18.2 lunar distances.

This 64-frame movie of asteroid Toutatis was generated from data by Goldstone's Solar System Radar on Dec. 12 and 13, 2012.

The radar data images of asteroid Toutatis indicate that it is an elongated, irregularly shaped object with ridges and perhaps craters. Along with shape detail, scientists are also seeing some interesting bright glints that could be surface boulders. Toutatis has a very slow, tumbling rotational state. The asteroid rotates about its long axis every 5.4 days and precesses (changes the orientation of its ) like a wobbling, badly thrown football, every 7.4 days.

The orbit of Toutatis is well understood. The next time Toutatis will approach at least this close to Earth is in November of 2069, when the asteroid will safely fly by at about 7.7 lunar distances, or 1.8 million miles (3 million kilometers). An analysis indicates there is zero possibility of an Earth impact over the entire interval over which its motion can be accurately computed, which is about the next four centuries.

This imagery will help scientists improve their understanding of the asteroid's , which will also help them understand its interior.

The resolution in the image frames is 12 feet (3.75 meters) per pixel.

NASA detects, tracks and characterizes asteroids and comets passing close to Earth using both ground- and space-based telescopes. The Near-Earth Object Observations Program, commonly called "Spaceguard," discovers these objects, characterizes a subset of them, and plots their orbits to determine if any could be potentially hazardous to our planet.


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Dec 18, 2012
Rotating just fast enough to be a problem. If an object like this were headed towards Earth, or if you wanted to try to mine it, that rotation would cause all kinds of grief. You would have to rule out more than half of the possible ways of dealing with it. Trying to set a mining mission on it would suck because you'd be in and out of the sunlight all the time and your communications antennae would always be pointing in different directions. Hitting it with explosives would be difficult because you'd have to figure out the rotations ahead of time, otherwise you might get a glancing blow on an angle in stead of a direct hit. Tethers would be an impossible nightmare, as well as a sail.

Dec 18, 2012
Trying to set a mining mission on it would suck because you'd be in and out of the sunlight all the time and your communications antennae would always be pointing in different directions.

The Hayabusa probe touched down on a rotating asteroid in 2005.

As for communications: Do it like Hayabusa did. Keep a part of the craft in orbit and relay any signals through it (not that you'd need 24/7 communication with a mining mission, anyhow)

would be difficult because you'd have to figure out the rotations ahead of time

It's not like the rotation isn't observable (or changes noticeably over time). I'd think something like that could be rather easily precalculated. And you don't need to hit it ballistically. Rendevouz and blow it up at your leisure (although blowing stuff up in space is rather less effective than many other methods of deflecting an asteroid).

Dec 19, 2012
And you don't need to hit it ballistically. Rendevouz and blow it up at your leisure (although blowing stuff up in space is rather less effective than many other methods of deflecting an asteroid).


I'm pretty sure you need something like a bunker-buster bomb, which would penetrate before detonation. As you said, a surface explosion in space, especially with a nuke, would be almost useless. In order to change the course of an asteroid you would want to actually throw material off of it, i.e. make a crater. Nuclear weapons in space aren't very good a making craters, since the majority of their energy is in the form of visible light. You'd vaporize a microscopic layer of the asteroid's surface, and that wouldn't do squat.

So, I think it's most likely you'd want a guided kinnetic impact, to burry your warhead before detonation. I'm not even sure a nuke would be the best choice either. Whatever would make the biggest hole with the least mass is the winner.

Dec 19, 2012
I don't even think bunker busters would do much.

Nuclear explosions on Earth seem big - but they 'only' devastate a surface. Asteroids (if you want to blow them up) need to be destroyed 'in volume'. And that's an entirely different order of magnitude.
Deviating their course in a - above all - controlled manner seems much more sensible to me. And there is not much 'controlled' about nuclear explosions.

Dec 19, 2012
I don't even think bunker busters would do much


Certainly not a conventional off-the-shelf device. I'm sure you'd want to make something custom. I'm thinking something like a cluster of smaller penetrator bombs to soften things up, then a master charge in the middle, deeper in, to really blast out a nice big hole. I don't know really. I'm no expert on that stuff.

If you could actually split the whole thing in half, the rotation might be a blessing. The two halves would go off in opposite directions due to the rotations. You'd just have to hope that they both miss the Earth then.

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