Mile-wide asteroid will skim past Earth today at 19,000mph
A mile-wide asteroid officially classed as a “potentially hazardous object” will skim past Earth on Wednesday.
Known as (52768) 1998 OR2, the asteroid will zoom past at around 19,000 miles per hour, making its closest approach at approximately 10.56am this morning.
During this flypast it will be just under four million miles away – 16 times the distance between the Earth and the moon.
Despite its official classification, scientists say the asteroid won’t actually put the planet at risk.
They explain that any asteroid larger than 500 feet and within five million miles of the Earth’s orbit is called “potentially hazardous”.
However, NASA has warned that it is time to take the threat of an Earth-destroying asteroid seriously.
A scientific study released last year poured cold water on the cinematic theory that humans could simply blow up an asteroid on a collision course with Earth, and found that blasted away fragments from the asteroid would be likely to reform with it because of gravity.
Fortunately for us, this won’t be the case with 1998 OR2.
Dr Brad Tucker, an astrophysicist at the Australian National University, said: “This asteroid poses no danger to the Earth and will not hit – it is one catastrophe we won’t have.
“While it is big, it is still smaller than the asteroid that impacted the Earth and wiped out the dinosaurs.”
Dr Anne Virkki, head of Planetary Radar at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico – which has also captured an image of the 1.2-mile wide space rock – has been tracking the asteroid.
Her team, which began observations of the the object on 13 April, joked that its most recent pictures suggested the asteroid was wearing a mask.
Dr Virkki said: “The small-scale topographic features such as hills and ridges on one end of asteroid 1998 OR2 are fascinating scientifically.
“But, since we are all thinking about COVID-19, these features make it look like 1998 OR2 remembered to wear a mask.”
The asteroid is not expected to approach Earth again for another 49 years, although scientists will continue to monitor it.
Flaviane Venditti, a research scientist at the Arecibo observatory, said: “The radar measurements allow us to know more precisely where the asteroid will be in the future, including its future close approaches to Earth.
“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.”
(c) Sky News 2020: Mile-wide asteroid will skim past Earth today at 19,000mph