Mile-wide asteroid flies past Earth at 19,000mph in 'close approach', Nasa says

'This asteroid poses no danger to the Earth and will not hit - it is one catastrophe we won't have'

Andrew Griffin
Wednesday 29 April 2020 10:49
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Mile-wide asteroid flies past earth at 19,000mph in 'close approach', NASA says

An asteroid more than a mile wide has skimmed past Earth in a "close approach".

The object made its closest approach at 10.56am UK time, when it was just 3.9 million miles away.

That is still roughly 16 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon. But it is a relatively close pass for an asteroid – and the rock known as (52768) 1998 OR2 will get even closer this century.

Astronomers have been watching the flyby in the hope of better learning about its orbit, which is scheduled to bring it much closer to Earth in 2079.

Although the asteroid is classified as a potentially hazardous object (PHO), scientists have said it will not put the planet at risk for now.

Dr Brad Tucker, an astrophysicist at the Australian National University, said: "This asteroid poses no danger to the Earth and will not hit - it is one catastrophe we won't have.

"While it is big, it is still smaller than the asteroid that impacted the Earth and wiped out the dinosaurs."

He said an asteroid is classed as a PHO if it is bigger than 500ft and comes within five million miles of Earth's orbit.

Dr Anne Virkki, head of Planetary Radar at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, who has been tracking the 1.2 mile-wide rock, said understanding more about PHOs will help "improve impact-risk mitigation technologies".

At present, there are no known PHOs that pose an immediate danger to the Earth.

The team, who began observations on April 13, joked that the most recent pictures of the asteroid made it look as though it is wearing a mask.

Dr Virkki said: "The small-scale topographic features such as hills and ridges on one end of asteroid 1998 OR2 are fascinating scientifically.

"But, since we are all thinking about Covid-19, these features make it look like 1998 OR2 remembered to wear a mask."

Scientists will continue to monitor the asteroid, although the next closest approach is not expected to take place for another 59 years.

Flaviane Venditti, a research scientist at the observatory, said: "The radar measurements allow us to know more precisely where the asteroid will be in the future, including its future close approaches to Earth.

"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."

Additional reporting by Press Association

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