Massive Asteroid Set To Shoot Past Earth Tonight In ‘Close Approach’
A mile-wide asteroid, which looks as though it’s wearing a protective face mask, is set to shoot past Earth in a ‘close approach’ today, April 29.
NASA scientists first spotted the rock, otherwise known by the catchy name of (52768) 1998 OR2, in 1998, and they have been tracking its progress ever since.
Today, the asteroid will make its closest approach as it comes within 3.9 million miles of Earth, approximately 16 times further than the distance to the Moon. The rock measures approximately 1.2 miles (2km) wide.
Sure, 3.9 million miles might seem like an extremely long distance – for reference, it’s about 148,855 marathons – but when you take into account the vastness of space, it’s actually not that far.
Scientists have classed the asteroid as a Potentially Hazardous Object (PHO) because it’s bigger than 140 metres and is set to come within five million miles of Earth’s orbit, but no known PHO poses an immediate danger to the planet, so we don’t have to add ‘getting destroyed by a big space rock’ to our list of worries today.
The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico has been tracking the asteroid as it makes its approach nearer to Earth, and scientists have joked the dust and debris passing around the rock in the latest image makes it seem as if it is wearing a protective mask.
Dr Anne Virkki, head of planetary radar at the observatory, said in a press release:
The small-scale topographic features such as hills and ridges on one end of asteroid 1998 OR2 are fascinating scientifically.
But since we are all thinking about [the virus] these features make it look like 1998 OR2 remembered to wear a mask.
Check out the latest picture here:
Though the asteroid’s flyby today doesn’t pose a threat to Earth, scientists will continue to monitor the rock to see how it will move beyond 2020, ensuring we are prepared for any future approaches it may make.
Flaviane Venditti, a research scientist at The Arecibo Observatory, explained:
The radar measurements allow us to know more precisely where the asteroid will be in the future, including its future close approaches to Earth.
In 2079, asteroid 1998 OR2 will pass Earth about 3.5 times closer than it will this year, so it is important to know its orbit precisely.
Although this asteroid is not projected to impact Earth, it is important to understand the characteristics of these types of objects to improve impact-risk mitigation technologies.
It’s probably best the asteroid keeps its distance from Earth at the moment; we’ve got enough to deal with as it is. Still, at least the rock has its protective face mask ready, on the off chance 3.9 million miles isn’t quite a safe enough distance.
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CreditsArecibo Radar/Twitter and 1 other
University of Central Florida