Don’t panic if you look into the early morning sky on Wednesday and see an object roaming over you. It is only the 1998 OR2 asteroid, also called 52768, that says hello to Earth.
The monstrous asteroid, discovered by astronomers in 1998 and followed for about 20 years, is currently moving at 19,461 miles an hour and will pass Earth from a safe distance of 3.9 million miles – or 16 times that Distance between Earth and Earth’s moon, reports Space.com.
According to the NASA Center for Near-Earth Object Studies, the flyby should take place at 5:56 a.m. and can be viewed live on the website of the virtual telescope.
When NASA first discovered it, experts predicted that the asteroid “is large enough to have global effects”
In a twist of fate, experts from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico indicated that the asteroid appears to be wearing a face mask, just like people on Earth amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“The small-scale topographical features such as hills and crests at one end of the 1998 OR2 asteroid are scientifically fascinating,” Anne Virkki, director of planetary radar, told CNN. “But since we are all thinking about COVID-19, these characteristics make it look like OR2 thought of wearing a mask in 1998.”
The Arecibo Observatory, supported by NASA’s near-Earth object observation program, triggered the alarm over asteroid 52768 because it is more than 500 feet long and is within 5 million miles of Earth’s orbit.
“The radar measurements allow us to know more precisely where the asteroid will be in the future, including its future approach to Earth,” researcher Flaviane Venditti told CNN. “In 2079, the 1998 OR2 asteroid will pass Earth about 3.5 times closer than this year, so it’s important to know its orbit.”
The largest asteroid known to pass through Earth was 3122 Florence, which passed in 2017. He will be back on September 2, 2057, according to the Earth Observation Program.