The largest asteroid to visit Earth this year is the zoomimg of our planet today (March 21) and it is a true demon of speed.
Asteroid 2001 FO32 is hurtling through space at an unusually fast speed for a space rock, around 77,000 mph (124,0000 kph), and will pass through Earth at a safe range of 1.25 million miles (2 million kilometers), according to NASA. . It won’t be this close to Earth again until 2052.
Asteroid 2001 FO32 is up to 2,230 feet (680 meters) wide and poses no risk of impact to Earth, but its speed is peculiar, the agency said.
“The reason for the asteroid’s unusually fast approach is its highly inclined and elongated (or eccentric) orbit around the sun, an orbit that is tilted 39 degrees relative to Earth’s orbital plane,” NASA officials wrote in a statement. “This orbit brings the asteroid closer to the sun than Mercury and twice as far from the sun as Mars.”
Astrophysicist Gianluca Masi of the Virtual Telescope Project in Ceccano, Italy, viewed asteroid 2001 FO32 with a telescope in the days leading up to today’s flyby. His video and images show the asteroid as a bright object moving in the sky.
Video: Watch asteroid 2001 FO32 move across the night sky
Like a rock rolling down a hill, asteroid 2001 FO32 gains speed as it falls toward the sun and then slows down as it heads toward Mars. The asteroid takes more than two years (810 days to be exact) to complete one orbit and will not pose a risk of impact to Earth for centuries, despite the 2001 FO32 classification as a “potentially dangerous asteroid,” NASA said. .
“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 (CNEOS) overseen by the NASA Jet. Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California. “There is no chance that the asteroid will get closer to Earth than 1.25 million miles.”
NASA and astronomers around the world regularly search for and track asteroids that could pose an impact hazard to Earth. Asteroid 2001 F032 was first discovered in 2001 by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) program in Socorro, New Mexico. Observations from NASA’s NEOWISE Space Telescope suggest that the asteroid is between 1,300 and 2,230 feet (440 and 680 m) wide.
“Even if it is on the smaller end of the scale, 2001 FO32 will still be the largest asteroid to pass this close to our planet in 2021,” NASA officials wrote. “The last remarkably large asteroid approach was the 1998 OR2 on April 29, 2020. While the 2001 FO32 is somewhat smaller than the 1998 OR2, it will be three times closer to Earth.”
At its closest point to Earth today, asteroid 2001 FO32 will be about 5.25 times the distance between Earth and the Moon. Still, astronomers will observe the asteroid closely with telescopes to learn more about its size, brightness, and composition.
“We’re trying to do geology with a telescope,” Vishnu Reddy, an associate professor at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona in Tucson, said in the statement.
Astronomers have been using NASA’s infrared telescope facility atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii in recent days to determine its chemical composition. They can also use NASA’s Deep Space Network of radio antennas to bounce signals from asteroid 2001 FO32 to measure its orbit, how fast it is spinning, and even determine some surface features such as craters.
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“Observations dating back 20 years revealed that about 15% of near-Earth asteroids comparable in size to FO32 from 2001 have a small moon,” JPL lead scientist Lance Benner said in the statement. “Currently little is known about this object, so the very close encounter provides a rare opportunity to learn a lot about this asteroid.”
The asteroid may also be visible to amateur astronomers in the southern hemisphere as it passes Earth, but it can be challenging to track.
“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 likely need star charts to find it. “
Asteroid 2001 FO32 is actually one of two asteroids passing Earth today, according to NASA’s Asteroid Watch website that lists such flybys. The second asteroid, named 2021 FH1, is about 97 feet (30 m) wide and will pass Earth at a distance of 973,000 miles (1.5 million kilometers). It was first detected by astronomers on Friday (March 19).
Email Tariq Malik at [email protected] or follow him at @tariqjmalik. Follow us on @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Instagram.