Asteroid Caught on Video (Sort Of)

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A new video captures the giant asteroid 4179 Toutatis tumbling through space on its flyby of Earth earlier this week, offering insight into how the thing moves.

The asteroid video, which is about 40 seconds long, combines 64 radar images taken Wednesday and Thursday by NASA's Deep Space Network antenna.

On those days, Toutatis was about 4.3 million miles from Earth, or about 18 times farther away than the moon is. Relatively speaking, that's really close!

The new radar images show the 3-mile-wide asteroid in striking detail.

Toutatis is revealed to be an elongated, irregularly shaped object with multiple ridges, researchers said. Strange bright glints may indicate surface boulders.

The video also sheds light on how Toutatis moves. The asteroid spins about its axis every 5.4 days and wobbles through space like a badly thrown football.

Toutatis never posed a threat to Earth on its recent flyby, and researchers say there is no chance it will hit our planet over the next four centuries or so.

Beyond that, all bets are off.

Nevertheless, the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Mass., lists Toutatis as a potentially hazardous object, meaning that it could pose a risk to Earth at some point.

Toutatis would cause catastrophic damage if it ever did hit, potentially extinguishing humanity and many other species, and at the very least alter world climate.

For comparison, the asteroid thought to have wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago was an estimated 6 miles across. Must have been rough for them.

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