Artist's rendering of an asteroid in the sky. Shutterstock.

A 4-Kilometer-Wide Asteroid Will Zoom Past Earth in April 2020

Observers will see the massive 4km asteroid as a slow-moving “star” in the night sky.

There’s a massive asteroid heading our way, and it will get here in April 2020. Luckily for us, the asteroid whose size could be up to 4km in diameter will not impact Earth. As revealed by the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) from NASA, the massive asteroid is anywhere between 1.9 and 4.1 kilometers in diameter. It is expected to pass safely past Earth on April 29, 2020. Dubbed ‘52768 (1998 OR2)‘, the space rock was discovered by NASA back in 1998 by astronomers of the NEAT program at the Haleakala Observatory, Hawaii.

The massive object is classified as ‘potentially dangerous’ since it has an orbit closer to 0.05 astronomical units (one astronomical unit is the average distance from Earth to the Sun). Specifically, this asteroid will pass almost six million kilometers from us (0.04 astronomical units), so there is very little chance that its passage will cause any kind of consequence for our planet, beyond delighting astronomers who will surely make preparations to study the object as it zips past Earth.

An image of the potentially hazardous asteroid (52768) 1998 OR2. This image was taken on March 6, 2020. Image Credit: Gianluca Masi/ Virtual Telescope Project.
An image of the potentially hazardous asteroid (52768) 1998 OR2. This image was taken on March 6, 2020. Image Credit: Gianluca Masi/ Virtual Telescope Project.

The asteroid is, according to astronomers, one of the brightest and largest potentially hazardous asteroids known to mankind. Recent observations have allowed us to better understand it, although experts hope to learn more about it as it makes its way past Earth in April. The massive space rock orbits our Sun at a distance of 1.0–3.7 Astronomical Units once every 3 years and 8 months. With observations as recent as March 2020 and a 32-year observation arc, the 2020 close approach distance is identified with an accuracy of approximately ±105 km.

As revealed by NASA observations with the IRTF Telescope, (52768) 1998 OR2 is a rare, L-type asteroid. These objects are uncommon asteroids with a strong reddish spectrum. Such asteroids are described as “featureless” S-types in the Tholen classification.

In reality, many space rocks tend to approach Earth’s orbit inevitably during their journey throughout the solar system. However, they are not usually as large as ‘52768 (1998 OR2)’: on average, only six asteroids of this size approach Earth.

It is of vital importance for astronomers to locate, classify study asteroids, for the safety of our planet.

The impact of a space rock the size of the (52768) 1998 OR2 could be devastating to life on Earth, as the event that killed off the dinosaurs clearly demonstrated.

For this reason, space agencies around the world have created programs like HERA or DART in place to prevent possible catastrophic collisions. As revealed by astronomers, there are currently around 900 near-Earth objects that are over a kilometer in diameter. However, the problem is not their size, since these space rocks are much easier to spot with the available technology and, therefore it is much easier to predict their orbit.

Smaller space rocks are a problem, and that’s because astronomers can’t really see them with available technology across greater distances. Since spotting them is hard, it means that once we do find them, we won’t necessarily have much time to prepare.

Therefore, astronomers around the world need to work on methods to identify much smaller, potentially hazardous space rocks that could create extensive damage if they were to impact our planet.

One example of smaller asteroid creating chaos is the space rock that ended up disintegrating and exploding over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk. This event, which astronomers could not predict and didn’t see coming and caused more than 1,000 injuries and damage to hundreds of houses. The worst part is, the asteroid was no more than 19 meters in diameter, NASA explains.

Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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