Asteroid 2001 FO32: The fast engine is expected to be the largest to pass Earth in 2021 –

Asteroid 2001 FO32: The fast engine is expected to be the largest to pass Earth in 2021

Scientists estimate that the asteroid is between 1,300 and 2,230 feet wide.

The near-Earth asteroid, known as 2001 FO32, will be 1.25 million miles, or more than five times the distance between Earth and the Moon, during its closest approach.

It will also move much faster than most of the asteroids that fly by our planet, shooting at 77,000 miles per hour.

The asteroid’s closest approach will occur at 12:03 p.m. ET Sunday.

“There is no threat of a collision with our planet now or for centuries to come,” according to a NASA statement.

“We know the 2001 FO32 orbital path around the Sun very precisely, as it was discovered 20 years ago and has been tracked ever since,” said Paul Chodas, director of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies, in a statement. “There is no chance that the asteroid will get closer to Earth than 1.25 million miles.”

The center is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

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Although 2001 FO32 won’t get close enough to cause any danger, it is still considered a potentially dangerous asteroid given its proximity. The Center for Near-Earth Object Studies tracks and predicts the orbits of such objects, using telescopes and radars to determine if they have a chance of impacting Earth.

This asteroid moves faster than others due to its elongated, angled orbit around the sun. This orbit brings the asteroid closer to the sun than Mercury, the closest planet to the star in our solar system, and twice as far as Mars, the fourth planet from the sun.

The asteroid's orbit is shown around the sun in white.

As 2001 FO32 approaches the inner solar system, it increases its speed. Once it is returned to deep space, it will slow down. The asteroid takes 810 days to complete one orbit, but its next closest step to Earth won’t happen again until 2052.

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If you have a telescope, you may be able to see the asteroid go by, depending on where you live.

“The asteroid will be brighter as it moves through the southern skies,” Chodas said. “Amateur astronomers in the southern hemisphere and in low northern latitudes should be able to see this asteroid using moderately sized telescopes with apertures of at least 8 inches in the nights before the closest approach, but they will probably need star charts to find it.”

Observation opportunity

A close pass is a great opportunity for scientists to observe these remnants of the formation of the solar system. During the flyby, they can refine the details of the size and composition of the asteroid. The agency’s infrared telescope facility on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea volcano is one of the telescopes that will be used to observe the asteroid.

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“We are trying to do geology with a telescope,” said Vishnu Reddy, associate professor at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona in Tucson, in a statement. “We are going to use the (telescope) to get the infrared spectrum to see its chemical composition. Once we know that, we can make comparisons with meteorites on Earth to find out what minerals 2001 FO32 contains.”

This photo shows the view from inside the dome of NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility.

Knowing the composition of the asteroid would reveal more about its history.

Three terrestrial radio antennas in California, Australia and Spain, which make up the Deep Space Network, can be used to essentially bounce radio signals from the asteroid. These can provide radar observations, as if the asteroid has its own moon.

“Observations dating back 20 years revealed that about 15% of near-Earth asteroids comparable in size to FO32 from 2001 have a small moon,” said Lance Benner, lead scientist at JPL, in a statement. “Currently little is known about this object, so the very close encounter provides a rare opportunity to learn a lot about this asteroid.”


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