Brace yourselves Earthlings
2004 09 20
By Frank Walker, The Age - Australia
Toutatis - its peanut shape is five kilometres across - would stretch across Melbourne from Government House to the zoo. If it hit Earth, it would leave a hole the size of Australia.
An asteroid big enough to wipe out all life on Earth will scrape past the planet on Wednesday week. The asteroid Toutatis is almost five kilometres long and 2.4 kilometres wide and shaped like a peanut.
Scientists say it will pass by Earth on September 29 with a gap of just 1.5 million kilometres, four times the distance to the Moon, which is a very close shave in astronomical terms.
At the moment Toutatis, named after a Celtic god, is hurtling towards Earth at 108,000 km/h.
If it deviated from its current path and hit Earth it would blast a hole the size of Australia in it and send up enough dust to obscure the sun, driving the planet into the equivalent of a nuclear winter and destroying life across the globe.
But Nick Lomb, curator of astronomy at Sydney Observatory, said astronomers had been plotting the path of Toutatis ever since it was discovered in 1989 and were certain it would pass safely by Earth.
"The orbit of Toutatis around the Sun is every four years and (it) will pass by close enough to be seen in the night sky.
"It is fast, and will traverse 24 degrees in an hour. It's big enough to wipe us out if it ever hits us, but it won't pass close again until 2562."
Mr Lomb said it would be brightest in the sky on the night of September 28, as its angle to the sun the next day would not reflect so much light. It will pass by the bright star Alpha Centauri, one of the two pointer stars for the Southern Cross, between 10pm and midnight.
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