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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304 Comments
  • therobo
    theroboWednesday, May 5, 2021 at 9:48 am
    if it crashed earth would go boom boom.
    • ocean_25
      ocean_25Tuesday, May 4, 2021 at 9:06 am
      ya that is crazy
      • wertqaz
        wertqazWednesday, April 28, 2021 at 9:28 am
        the speed of sound is not as fast as the speed of light but 100 TIMES FASTER and its not big but if it did crash into the earth going that fast thats dangerous luckly it didn't crash
        • optimus_fan
          optimus_fanWednesday, April 21, 2021 at 10:19 am
          Good it didn't land ON earth or else: ☄️+🌎=💥
          • confon
            confonThursday, April 29, 2021 at 11:44 am
            actually the earths atmosphere would make it so that wouldn't happen
            • therobo
              theroboWednesday, May 5, 2021 at 9:49 am
              yea it would
            • wolfy_blue
              wolfy_blueWednesday, April 21, 2021 at 10:43 am
              Haha yeah... that wouldn't be good.
              • mkg2011
                mkg2011Saturday, April 24, 2021 at 11:18 am
                no it wouldn't
                • confon
                  confonThursday, May 13, 2021 at 11:44 am
                  it would not because the earths atmosphere would at least weaken it
            • nightwaves
              nightwavesTuesday, April 13, 2021 at 7:29 am
              Also, didn't some teenagers spot a huge astroid or whatever that they reported. And then the officals said it would crash into earth in like 5 billion years?
              • nightwaves
                nightwavesTuesday, April 13, 2021 at 7:25 am
                100times faster than sound. You will deffinetly be very lucky to see it.
                • nasapadowire
                  nasapadowireMonday, April 12, 2021 at 3:08 pm
                  Your luck if you got to see it this time
                  • nasapadowire
                    nasapadowireMonday, April 12, 2021 at 2:51 pm
                    Sad where all not gonna be alive to see it pass again
                    • 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
                      • ami18
                        ami18Sunday, April 11, 2021 at 10:59 pm
                        Oh, at first I was scared if it touches earth but then it says it was close but won't and I was relived!!! Cool news.