Asteroid to Pass Safely Near Earth in April 2020, NASA Says


Getty An image mosaic of an asteroid released by NASA.

A large asteroid is set to pass near Earth in April 2020, but there’s no risk that it will hit our planet. Asteroid (52768) 1998 OR2 is the biggest asteroid that’s scheduled to fly by Earth this year and it’s generating a lot of excitement among professional and amateur astronomers.

Although it’s classified as “potentially dangerous,” it has absolutely no chance of colliding with Earth or even affecting our planet in any way. The “potentially dangerous” label is applied by NASA to any asteroid whose orbit intersects the Earth’s orbit at a distance less than 0.05 astronomical units (about 4.6 million miles).

According to Space’s report, the large rock is estimated to have a diameter of 1.1 to 2.5 miles, which is about the width of Manhattan. It’s traveling through space at 19,461 miles an hour, EarthSky reported. The asteroid is set to be at its closest point to Earth on April 29 at 5:56 a.m. Eastern.

The Asteroid Will Be Visible Even Through Smaller Telescopes

Asteroid (52768) 1998 OR2 was first discovered by astronomers at the Haleakala Observatory in Hawaii in 1998. Astronomers at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico will be able to get a better idea of the size and shape of the large rock as they will be studying it during its approach from April 8 to April 24, EarthSky reported.

Professional and amateur astronomers are already excited about the asteroid’s fly-by because even smaller telescopes will be able to observe the space rock. It won’t be visible to the naked eye, even at its closest point on April 29. EarthSky believes that the rock will reach a visual magnitude of 10 or 11, so it will be visible to anyone with at least a 6-inch or 8-inch telescope.

For those who don’t have access to a telescope, the Virtual Telescope Project in Italy will provide an online viewing of the asteroid on April 28. It will be free and accessible to all. It will appear as a very slow-moving star across the sky, and at its closest point, it will be about 3.9 million miles away from Earth. That’s over 16 times the average distance between our planet and the moon.

This Will the Closest Significant Approach of an Asteroid for the Next Few Years

As EarthSky pointed out, other asteroids will pass closer to Earth in the future, including Apophis, a smaller asteroid that will fly past our planet in 2029 at a closer distance. Another huge space rock that’s 2 miles wide will pass by Earth in 2024, but that will be a little farther away than next month’s asteroid fly-by.

This is the most significant and closest approach of an asteroid until 2027. At that point, another large asteroid will pass Earth safely by 12 lunar distances, just under 3 million miles from Earth.

In terms of asteroid 1998 OR2, which will pass by Earth in the next month, it’s not set to fly by our planet again until May 18, 2031. At that time, though, it’ll be much farther away, about 12 million miles from the planet. Although it will pass by Earth a few more times, the next time it’ll fly-by at a close distance will be on April 16, 2079, at which time it will be only 1.1 million miles away from Earth.

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