Asteroid 4179 Toutatis (1996)
November 29, 1996 (CNN) web posting
-Asteroid Toutatis pass near the Earth Friday night (11-29-96) at a distance of 3.3 million miles (5.3 million kilometers), or about 14 times the distance from the Earth to the Moon.
Asteroids are rocky and metallic objects that orbit the Sun but are too small to be considered planets. They are sometimes known as minor planets.
Asteroids hold special fascination for scientists because of their age, quantity and proximity to the Earth. Scientists estimate that there are more than 100,000 near-Earth asteroids larger than a football stadium.
A NASA animation, created with radar images from ground- basing observing stations, shows the bizarre shape, surface texture, and rotation of the three-mile long asteroid. (NASA computer animation -
QTmove small 602K/19 sec. QTMove large)1.3M/19 sec
The asteroid Toutatis was discovered by French astronomers in 1989 and named after a Celtic god. It is considered one of the strangest bodies in the Solar System, given its peculiar rotation and bizarre shape, which resembles two chunks of rock connected by a narrow neck-like structure.
The rocky body's strange traits are believed to be the result of a history of violent collisions.
Asteroid Toutatis last rounded the Earth in 1992 and will return again in 2004, when it will pass only four lunar distances from Earth -- closer than any known Earth-approaching object expected to pass by in the next 60 years.