Video of the Huge Asteroid that Buzzed by Earth Last Week

Erin McCarthy

Last week, the 3-mile-wide asteroid 4179 Toutatis flew by Earth—on December 12, Toutatis was 4.3 million miles from Earth; on December 13, it was about 4.4 million miles away. Using the antenna from the Deep Space Network, NASA created radar data images of the irregularly-shaped asteroid and used them to create the video below.

The images show that the asteroid has ridges and maybe craters; glints in the images might actually be boulders on the surface. Because of the high resolution of the images, scientists can model its shape and spin state.

Last week's visit isn't the closest Toutatis has gotten. In 2004, the asteroid came within four lunar distances (this time, Toutatis was 18 lunar distances away). The next time Toutatis will come very close to Earth is in November 2069, when the asteroid will safely fly by at about 1.8 million miles (3 million kilometers). Though Toutatis is listed as a potentially hazardous object, analysis shows that there is zero possibility of an Earth impact over the time that its motion can be computed—about four centuries.