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Massive Asteroid To Fly By Earth Soon; Should We be Worried?
Every year thousands of asteroids flyby Earth, some in close proximity, while some far off. A few days from now, one of the largest asteroids will skim past Earth, NASA confirmed. In fact, this is going to be the largest asteroid to fly by Earth this year and will be a treat for astronomers, space enthusiasts, and sky gazers.
Large Asteroid To Fly By Earth
The largest one this year, the asteroid 2001 FO32 will fly by the Earth on March 21. NASA has confirmed that the asteroid will approach Earth about two million kilometers away (around 1.25 million miles from Earth). The distance is roughly 5.25 times the distance of the Earth from the Moon.
The asteroid 2001 FO32 was discovered nearly 20 years ago. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has studied the orbital path of the asteroid very precisely. "We know the orbital path of 2001 FO32 around the Sun very accurately," says Paul Chodas, director of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies.
"As 2001 FO32 makes its inner solar system journey, the asteroid picks up speed like a skateboarder rolling down a halfpipe, and then slows after being flung back out into deep space and swinging back toward the Sun. It completes one orbit every 810 days (about 2 1/4 years)," NASA explains.
Massive Asteroid Flyby: How Dangerous Is It?
The accurate pathway of the asteroid has helped astronauts better understand it. "There is no chance the asteroid will get any closer to Earth than 1.25 million miles," Chodas further states. As noted, this would be about 5.25 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon.
However, NASA has still categorized the asteroid 2001 FO32 as a 'potentially hazardous asteroid'. NASA further explains that the asteroid will pass by at around 77,000 miles per hour faster than the speed of most other asteroids flying by Earth.
Asteroid Flyby: Perfect Opportunity To Study It
The upcoming encounter will also provide a perfect chance to get a rare close look at the massive asteroid. "Currently, little is known about this object, so the very close encounter provides an outstanding opportunity to learn a great deal about this asteroid," says Lance Benner, principal scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
An asteroid that formed at the dawn of our solar system will zoom safely past Earth on March 21. The object, called 2001 FO32, will be about 1.25M miles (2M km) away from our planet, but it’ll provide astronomers a rare chance to examine the rocky relic. https://t.co/UQYBFPuIHz pic.twitter.com/WrYZB3Wyno— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) March 11, 2021
Presently, very little is known about the asteroid 2001 FO32. The flyby in the coming days could provide a chance to better understand the asteroid's size and its composition. NASA aims to do this by studying the light reflecting off its surface. "By studying the spectrum of light reflecting off the surface, astronomers can measure the chemical 'fingerprints of the minerals on the surface of the asteroid," NASA said.
Not just NASA astronauts, but even amateur space enthusiasts can witness the massive asteroid. Astronomers in the southern hemisphere can see the asteroid flyby using a moderate-sized telescope with apertures of at least eight inches in the nights leading up to the closest approach. Yet, they would still need star charts to find it. The massive asteroid is estimated to be around 3,000 feet in diameter. With thousands of asteroids categorized, NASA notes there's no potential impact on Earth for the next century.