At the moment NASA and its observatories are tracking the harmless asteroid 2012 TC4 but treating it as if it will collide with Earth, as drill tests to see how they may respond to such a threat. The asteroid is expecting to sail overhead on the 12th of October.
NASA has never done a test like this before, previously their tests have been theoretical. Using a real asteroid to gauge the situation will help scientists understand the best course of action. Professor Vishnu Reddy from the University of Arizona explains:
The question is: How prepared are we for the next cosmic threat? So we proposed an observational campaign to exercise the network and test how ready we are for a potential impact by a hazardous asteroid.
The project is headed by NASA’s Planetary Defence Coordination Office or PDCO. The group is responsible for Earth’s safety against cosmic interference from things such as asteroids. The test will survey the circumstance assess risk, predictions and communication.
This is a team effort that involves more than a dozen observatories, universities, and labs across the globe so we can collectively learn the strengths and limitations of our planetary defence capabilities.
The asteroid will become visible in August, which will make it easier to track it direction and flight path. Finding asteroids will depend on the level of light hitting it, which makes it very difficult to identify the larger ones before coming incredibly close to the planet. This has many worried about the preparedness of earth if an asteroid was to come close enough to impact.
Hopefully, this test will help scientists develop a strategy if the worst were to happen.
Information cited: Press release published by the University of Arizona on 27 July 2017