This Year's Largest And Fastest Asteroid Is About To Zoom Past Earth

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An artist's illustration of an asteroid flyby (Credit: NASA)

On March 21, 2021, Earth will have its closest encounter with 2001 FO32 — the largest and fastest-known asteroid scheduled to fly past our planet this year. The space rock, estimated to be between 2,526 feet ( 0.47 miles) and 5,577 feet (1.05 miles) in diameter, will zip past Earth at a staggering speed of 76,980 miles per hour (123,887 km/h). To put it in perspective, that is about 100 times faster than the speed of sound!

FO32 is among the thousands of "near-Earth objects," or NEOs, that orbit the sun in our cosmic neighborhood. It was first spotted by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) program telescopes in New Mexico on March 23, 2001. The space rock's highly elliptical orbit around the Sun — which takes 810 days, or just over two years — brings it close to Earth every thirty to fifty years. While FO32 will revisit our planet on March 22, 2052, the 2021 flyby will be its closest one in the next 200 years!

The asteroid and Earth are seen on the left of this orbital map on the 'blue' Earth orbit line - the orbit of the asteroid is visible through the tall white lines (Credit: NASA)

NASA researchers have tagged the asteroid as a "potentially hazardous object." The classification refers to all space rocks that can make close approaches to Earth and are large enough — over 450 feet (140 meters) in diameter — to cause significant damage in the event of impact. Fortunately, FO32, which will be 1.3 million miles away — or about five times the distance between the Earth and the Moon — at its closest approach at 11:03 a.m. EST (1603 GMT) on March 21, 2021, poses no such risk during this, or any future, encounters.

Stargazers hoping to catch a glimpse of flyby asteroids usually have to wait patiently for at least 5 to 10 minutes until their backyard telescopes can detect the space rocks which appear like slow-moving “stars.” However, since FO32 is moving at such rapid speeds, observers with an 8 inch or larger telescope will be able to watch the space rock soar by in real-time during its closest approach. While FO32 will be visible worldwide, due to its position in the southern sky, the best views will be reserved for Southern Hemisphere residents. Also, since the asteroid's closest approach will occur during daylight hours in the US, residents hoping to catch a glimpse will have to seek out space rock a little earlier, at about at 4:45 a.m. EST when the skies are still dark,

Resources: Earthsky.org, BGR.com, livescience.com

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294 Comments
  • ami18
    ami18Sunday, April 11, 2021 at 11:01 pm
    I was relived that it was only close or didn't and won't crash but still cool news.
    • amyblue
      amyblueMonday, April 12, 2021 at 9:28 am
      Yeah, I'm glad that we are safe. But this was great news
    • uniqueness
      uniquenessWednesday, April 7, 2021 at 10:50 pm
      What if it touches our planet!?
      • coolgirl000
        coolgirl000Monday, March 29, 2021 at 5:42 pm
        Like when my sister read this she cried
        • christma
          christmaSunday, March 28, 2021 at 3:56 pm
          Wow, that was REALLY close!
          • astromner0089
            astromner0089Friday, March 26, 2021 at 11:07 am
            that would be bad because we get used to the freezing tempatures and if the earth mover later we would burn to death and there would be alot of causilties
            • chickenboi
              chickenboiFriday, March 26, 2021 at 9:15 am
              What if It Landed and we bit dust like the dinos. Good we didn't!
              • hawicuwu-160066195599
                hawicuwu-160066195599Friday, March 26, 2021 at 7:46 am
                i hope it dont touch our planet
                • horsesr_awsome
                  horsesr_awsomeFriday, March 26, 2021 at 6:45 am
                  That is so cool! It did not crash into earth, so we all are okay. But that was pretty close!
                  • winboidogo
                    winboidogoThursday, April 8, 2021 at 1:59 pm
                    That's good to hear!
                  • unicorn87
                    unicorn87Wednesday, March 24, 2021 at 5:04 pm
                    To me this is kind of scary but i am hoping it will not crash into the earth! I hope i can find some sort of livestream so i can see it from a cam in space.
                    • denigize-159786085859
                      denigize-159786085859Wednesday, March 24, 2021 at 9:07 am
                      I have now words any more like for real