NASA leads an asteroid "fire drill" as asteroid nears Earth

The network's test is going well so far and is monitoring the asteroid as expected, according to NASA researchers.

Kristy Douglas | Oct 16, 2017

A small asteroid passed within 27,200 miles of Antarctica early Thursday, causing an alert to go off in the International Asteroid Warning Network. NASA scientists called the incident a successful "fire drill" of the globally distributed system and its ability to give us humans some advance warning if a future asteroid is heading straight for our planet.

"You never expect your office building to catch fire and to be trapped in there, but you have fire drills anyway," said program scientist Michael Kelley on Wednesday, just before the test. "That's what I've been using as kind of an analogy to what we're doing here."

Numerous observatories within the warning network tracked the asteroid's trajectory through space together for the past several weeks from their vantage points in several locations, including Hawaii and Arizona. Kelley said that the network has communication lines extending to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the White House.

He said that the network's observatories will keep tracking it for the next week and will gather more detailed information on its size and shape. Astronomers first spotted the asteroid, named 2012 TC4, in 2012 and then lost sight of it until last July. They estimate it to measure 45 to 100 feettoo small to be seen by amateur astronomers.

NASA reportedly did not expect the asteroid to hit Earthand at 100 feet or less, it would have done minimal damage even if it hadbut the agency took the asteroid's near-Earth swing as an opportunity to verify that the warning network is operating effectively. It will conduct another test on another harmless asteroid passing Earth a few years from now, Kelley said.