Massive Asteroid With "Face Mask" Will Zoom Past Earth Tomorrow

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In this radar image of the 1998 OR2 asteroid, captured by the Arecibo Observatory on April 18, 2020. the space rock's topographic features resemble a face mask (Credit: Arecibo Observatory/NASA/NSF)

On April 29, 2020, Earth will get an intimidating visitor — a massive asteroid called 1998 OR2. Fortunately for us, the space rock, which experts believe will be the largest one to fly by our planet this year, will be following the strict COVID-19 pandemic regulations. 1998 OR2 will not only be zooming past Earth at a safe "social" space of about 3.9 million miles (6.3 million km), or about 16 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon, but it will also be wearing a "face mask."

"The small-scale topographic features such as hills and ridges on one end of asteroid 1998 OR2 are fascinating scientifically," says Anne Virkki, head of the Planetary Radar at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. "But since we are all thinking about COVID-19, these features make it look like 1998 OR2 remembered to wear a mask."

The 1998 OR2 asteroid will zoom within 3.9 million miles (6.3 million kilometers) of our planet on April 29, 2020 (Credit: Gianluca Masi/ Virtual Telescope Project)

Measuring approximately 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) wide, the largely spherical 1998 OR2 rotates once every 4.1 hours and travels through space at a rapid pace of 19,461 miles per hour (31,320 km/h). First observed on July 27, 1998, by astronomers at the Haleakala Observatory in Hawaii, it belongs to a special category of near-Earth asteroids called potentially hazardous objects (PHOs). The classification includes large space rocks — over 500 feet (152 meters) across — that come to within 5 million miles of Earth's orbit and pose a danger to our planet.

1998 OR2 will not impact Earth during its 2020 visit. However, the Arecibo Observatory team has been closely tracking and collecting data on the space object since April 13, 2020. "The radar measurements allow us to know more precisely where the asteroid will be in the future, including its future close approaches to Earth," says Flaviane Venditti, a research scientist at the observatory. "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."

The 1.2 mile-wide 1998 OR2 is large enough to be categorized as a potentially hazardous object (Credit: Arecibo Observatory/NASA/NSF)

Though it is not bright enough to view with the unaided eye, amateur astronauts will be able to see 1998 OR2, which will appear as a slow-moving "star," using 6-to-8-inch telescopes. US residents can also tune into Slooh.com's Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube channels to get a closer glimpse. Since the asteroid will be best viewed at night, the one-hour-long free event will commence at 7 p.m. EDT on April 28, 2020, or about 11 hours before 1998 OR2 makes its closest approach to Earth at 5:56 a.m. EDT on April 29, 2020

Happy viewing! Be sure to let us know what you thought of our COVID-19 compliant visitor by writing your comments below.

Resources: graduate.ucf.edu, earthsky.org

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172 Comments
  • helen0916
    helen0916Friday, August 7, 2020 at 5:56 pm
    WOW, AMAZING!!!!
    • pianodog8
      pianodog8Sunday, July 19, 2020 at 12:19 pm
      Lol 😆
      • violinstar
        violinstarSaturday, July 18, 2020 at 4:43 am
        Yeah amazing
        • mad_scientist
          mad_scientistWednesday, July 15, 2020 at 1:35 pm
          Ha Ha OMG so funny
          • unicornpuppy10
            unicornpuppy10Wednesday, July 29, 2020 at 8:44 am
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            • 29zabraham
              29zabrahamSunday, July 26, 2020 at 5:47 pm
              What's so funny
            • harrypfangirl
              harrypfangirlMonday, July 13, 2020 at 4:02 pm
              Awesome! I didn't know asteroids knew about corona !!! lol
              • aluminium
                aluminiumWednesday, July 8, 2020 at 7:14 am
                So cool I love astronomy
                • the_wolf
                  the_wolfSunday, July 5, 2020 at 10:32 pm
                  Wowie
                  • i_love_books
                    i_love_booksWednesday, July 1, 2020 at 6:39 am
                    that is sooooooo cool!!!! follow me if you agree!!! 😄;-)😁😁😁
                    • aaron4
                      aaron4Tuesday, June 9, 2020 at 10:21 am
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                      • harrypfangirl
                        harrypfangirlMonday, July 13, 2020 at 4:04 pm
                        I liked and followed u
                        • artiscool
                          artiscoolWednesday, July 1, 2020 at 6:35 pm
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                        • livers
                          liversSaturday, June 6, 2020 at 7:46 am
                          Cool