Just when people are talking about the Mayan calendar end of the world predictions, an asteroid called 2012 XE54 narrowly missed Earth Tuesday, Dec. 11. The 3-mile-long asteroid 4179 Toutatis was still in the process of orbiting Earth when the newfound asteroid buzzed the planet - at a distance closer than the moon.
An image of Asteroid 2012 XE54's orbit (SPACE.com)
5 Things To Know About Asteroid 2012 XE54
1. Asteroid 2012 XE54 was discovered only two days ago on Sunday, Dec. 9. It is predicted to come close to the planet in 2.72 years.
2. XE54 measures about 0.022 miles (0.037 kilometers). In contrast, the bigger peanut-shaped asteroid called Toutatis measures 2.7 miles (4.3 kilometers) long and 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) wide.
3. The size of XE54 can cause a significant damage in case it hits the Earth in its next orbit. In its report, livescience.com noted, a space object of the same size "flattened 800 square miles (2,000 square km) of forest when it exploded above Siberia's Podkamennaya Tunguska River in 1908."
4. XE54 buzzed Earth within 140,000 miles (230,000 kilometers). In contrast, the moon goes around the planet at an estimated average distance of 240,000 miles (386,000 km).
5. The closes approach happened at about 1000 GMT on Tuesday, Dec. 11.
Space scientists are constantly studying space objects that pass within the solar system. The number of documented space rocks has reached about 9,000, according to Live Science. However, the scientists make it clear there is no current asteroid or any space object threat to the planet.
Some Dec. 21 Mayan calendar end of the world predictions involve a rogue space object that would purportedly slam into Earth. But the scientists emphasize Toutatis is too far to impact Earth when it comes closest to the planet on December 12.