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This picture shows what an artist thinks Toutatis might look like.
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Image courtesy Steve Ostro, NASA/JPL.

Asteroid Toutatis

Toutatis is a very strange asteroid. It has a strange shape, and it spins in a very unusual way. Sometimes Toutatis comes close to Earth.

This asteroid is shaped sort of like a potato. Its size is 1.92 km by 2.29 km by 4.6 km (1.2 by 1.4 by 2.9 miles). It may actually be two asteroids that are stuck together. It might even be two asteroids that are rolling around on each other, held together by gravity!

Toutatis spins in a very odd fashion that is different from the way planets, moons, and most other asteroids rotate. Toutatis wobbles like a poorly thrown football pass. If you were standing on Toutatis, every day would be different. The Sun would rise and set in a different place each day, and would seem to move across the sky along a different path!

The orbit of Toutatis around the Sun sometimes brings it close to Earth. It was close to Earth on September 29, 2004. On that day it passed within 1.5 million kilometers (961 thousand miles) of Earth, about four times the distance to the Moon. That may seem like a long way to you, but it was the closest an asteroid that big will come to Earth this century.

Toutatis was discovered in 1989 by a group of French astronomers led by C. Pollas. Toutatis is named after a Celtic god of war, whose name means 'king of battle' or 'father of the tribe'.

Last modified October 4, 2004 by Randy Russell.

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