3-Mile-Wide Asteroid 4179 Toutatis Flies Near Earth [PHOTOS, VIDEO]

on December 12 2012 12:02 PM
  • 3-Mile-Wide Asteroid
    Scientists said three-mile-wide asteroid Toutatis does not pose a threat to Earth as it is slated to fly 4.3 million miles away from the surface. Pictured is a 1996 photo from asteroid Toutatis looking towards Earth. NASA
  • 3-Mile-Wide Asteroid
    Scientists said three-mile-wide asteroid Toutatis does not pose a threat to Earth as it is slated to fly 4.3 million miles away from the surface. NASA Goldstone Probe
  • 3-Mile-Wide Asteroid
    Scientists said three-mile-wide asteroid Toutatis does not pose a threat to Earth as it is slated to fly 4.3 million miles away from the surface. Twitter/infoastronomy
  • 3-Mile-Wide Asteroid
    Scientists said three-mile-wide asteroid Toutatis does not pose a threat to Earth as it is slated to fly 4.3 million miles away from the surface. Pictured is a screen shot of Pasquale Tricarico's animation. Pasquale Tricarico Animation Screenshot
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A three-mile wide asteroid called Toutatis began its path Tuesday night as it flew by Earth -- on its journey for the next week.

Scientists said asteroid 4179 Toutatis does not pose a threat to Earth as it is slated to fly 4.3 million miles away from the surface, or 18 times the distance between the Earth and moon. However, NASA said the passing of the huge asteroid presents an opportunity to learn more about the asteroid and others in space.

"There is no danger of a collision with Earth," NASA researcher, Lance Benner, said in a statement on Wednesday. "Almost 9,400 asteroids have been found so far, and none of them have a significant chance of hitting us. It's the ones we haven't found yet that are of greater concern."

Toutatis first flew by on Tuesday night, into Wednesday morning, but NASA said the asteroid should be visible until Saturday if the right conditions are present and with the right telescope.

And this isn't the first time Toutatis, one of the largest asteroids, has made an appearance close to Earth. The asteroid, which is nearly there miles wide, travels on a path near Earth every four years. It was first spotted in 1934 but wasn't discovered until 1989 by French astronomer Christian Pollas. The asteroid has been documented every four years since its discovery.

In 1996, Toutatis provided a never-before-seen vantage point of Earth through the use of a 2.5 degree field-of-view synthetic computer camera. The NASA image showed Earth off in the distance in the night sky as it traveled on Nov. 29, 1996.

The closest Toutatis ever passed near Earth was in 2004 when it flew by less than a million miles away, in spite of still not posing a threat.