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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188 Comments
  • syonasun
    syonasunTuesday, October 13, 2020 at 2:20 pm
    so cool
    • i008
      i008Friday, October 9, 2020 at 6:05 pm
      It is amazing! how can that astroid wear a facemark?
      • r_b
        r_bTuesday, October 6, 2020 at 11:39 am
        I'm happy this asteroid is not a Karen who refuses to wear a mask
        • blueballoon
          blueballoonThursday, October 22, 2020 at 6:49 pm
          I'm laughing so hard right now
          • blueballoon
            blueballoonThursday, October 22, 2020 at 5:19 pm
            I'm laughing so hard right now
            • oliver545364
              oliver545364Monday, October 12, 2020 at 10:24 am
              nice one
            • raphi
              raphiTuesday, October 6, 2020 at 7:56 am
              The asteroid whas so near!!!!!😱😱😱
              • oliver545364
                oliver545364Monday, October 12, 2020 at 10:23 am
                i know right
              • geogeaphyboy27
                geogeaphyboy27Monday, October 5, 2020 at 8:58 am
                That was on my puppy's birthday!
                • oliver545364
                  oliver545364Monday, October 12, 2020 at 10:24 am
                  mine too
                • yellowsloth1590
                  yellowsloth1590Monday, September 21, 2020 at 4:06 pm
                  This is very magical "mask" rock in space. Sadly i did not know about this until today
                  • sanicer
                    sanicerSunday, September 20, 2020 at 2:03 pm
                    that was fascinating acully
                    • gabbie1004
                      gabbie1004Monday, September 14, 2020 at 12:42 pm
                      nice :)
                      • muhinete-159905851730
                        muhinete-159905851730Friday, September 11, 2020 at 6:47 am
                        cool
                        • jomiwowu-156993535441
                          jomiwowu-156993535441Thursday, September 10, 2020 at 5:43 am
                          i wish i sawl it
                          • gabbie1004
                            gabbie1004Monday, September 14, 2020 at 12:41 pm
                            Me too