Don’t panic if you look up into the early morning sky on Wednesday and see an object streaking across. It’s just asteroid 1998 OR2, also called 52768, saying hi to Earth.
Originally spotted in 1998 by astronomers and tracked for about 20 years, the monstrous asteroid is currently traveling at a rate of 19,461 miles per hour and will pass Earth from a safe distance of 3.9 million miles — or 16 times the distance between the Earth and the moon, reports Space.com.
According to NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies, the flyby is scheduled to take place at 5:56 a.m. and can be viewed live on the Virtual Telescope’s website.
When first discovered by NASA, experts predicted that should it veer off course and hit Earth, the asteroid is “large enough to cause global effects.”
In a twist of fate, experts at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico pointed out that the asteroid looks to be wearing a face mask, just like people on Earth amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“The small-scale topographic features such as hills and ridges on one end of asteroid 1998 OR2 are fascinating scientifically,” head of planetary radar Anne Virkki told CNN. “But since we are all thinking about COVID-19, these features make it look like 1998 OR2 remembered to wear a mask.”
The Arecibo Observatory, which is supported by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program, raised the alarm over asteroid 52768, since it’s more than 500 feet long and coming 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 close approaches to Earth,” researcher Flaviane Venditti told CNN. “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 largest asteroid known to pass Earth was 3122 Florence, which sailed by in 2017. It will be back, according to the Near-Earth Object Observations Program, on Sept. 2, 2057.
by Jack Hobbs nypost.com