An asteroid that appears to be wearing a protective mask as it travels across the solar system is set to pass safely past Earth in a few days. The asteroid designated 1998 OR2 has a diameter of several kilometers and is expected to make its closest approach Earth on Wednesday, April 29, 2020, at 9:56 UTC.
The potentially hazardous space rock will continue speaking throughout the solar System, successfully missing our planet. The latest observations by the Arecibo Observatory / NASA / NSF show the massive asteroid has a spherical shape.
Although the asteroid was placed by experts on the list of potentially dangerous objects, this time it will pass 0.042 astronomical units (AU) from Earth, about 6.3 million km away, a distance that is approximately 16 times greater than the distance between the Earth and the Moon, which means that there are no chances of the space rock posing a threat to our planet, at least not on this pass. For comparison On June 3, 2020, the planet Venus will be located at a distance of 0.29 AU (43 million km) from Earth.
This week’s flyby of asteroid 1998 OR2 is the closest approach to Earth since its discovery by the Near-Earth Asteroid Tracking Program (NEAT), based at the Haleakala Observatory, on the night of July 24, 1998.
According to astronomers, 1998 OR2 is one of the brightest and therefore largest potentially hazardous asteroids known to exist. With an observation arc of 32 years, the asteroid has a well-determined orbit, and its trajectory is well known through the year 2197. This means that the orbit of 1998 OR2 throughout the solar system is hazardous on a time scale of hundreds, probably thousands of years. The asteroid is a member of the Amor group of asteroids and does not currently cross the orbit of planet Earth.
As revealed by the PHA-list, 1998 OR2 has an absolute magnitude of 15.8, making it one of the brightest and—presumably—largest known potentially hazardous asteroids discovered to date.
This week’s pass gives astronomers a chance to further refine the 1998 OR2 1998 orbit. Radar observations indicate that it rotates on its axis once every four hours. A striking image of the approach taken last week by the Arecibo Observatory showed the massive space rock with a face exposed to sunlight, giving the appearance as if the asteroid was wearing a mask, as it passes safely past Earth.
Astronomers expect that one day, 1998 OR2 will be either ejected from the inner solar system or could impact either our planet or the Moon, in a worst-case scenario that won’t happen for centuries or even millennia.
Such an impact would only cause limited regional damage, similar to the impact event in Australia that covered the Pacific region with tektites, about 790,000 years ago.
As revealed by Universe Today, space agencies around the world are currently busy exploring cosmic bodies of similar size with Japa’s Hayabusa spacecraft exploring asteroid Ryugu, and NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft visiting asteroid Bennu. Both missions are expected to return surface samples of their respective asteroids back to Earth for further studies.