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Space Rock Flyby of Earth: Radar Images of Asteroid Toutatis

A crack team of planetary radar specialists at NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory snagged a sequence of images of asteroid Toutatis as it whisked by the Earth December 12th.

An observing campaign of the space rock was carried out at the Goldstone facility in California.

4179 Toutatis was discovered by C. Pollas at Caussols (France) in January of 1989. Toutatis has been making close approaches to Earth at four-year intervals since its discovery, and as a result, it was studied extensively with radar in 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008, and also at a variety of optical and infrared wavelengths in 1992-1993.

Toutatis is an irregular and very elongated object. It’s also a very slow rotator characterized by 5.4-day rotation about the long axis.

A number of radar images were taken using the Goldstone radio dish. Toutatis approached within 0.0463 AU of Earth (18 lunar distances) on December 12th.

The next opportunity for radar imaging of Toutatis will occur in late 2016 and early 2017.

The next time Toutatis will approach at least this close to Earth is in November of 2069.

By Leonard David


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