Largest ‘potentially hazardous asteroid’ of 2021 to pass by Earth today at 124,000 kmph. All you need to know
- The reason behind the unusually speedy close approach is the asteroid’s highly inclined and elongated orbit around the Sun, according to Nasa.
The largest asteroid to pass by Earth in 2021 will be at its closest on Sunday, presenting astronomers a valuable opportunity to have a good look at a space rock that, according to Nasa, was formed at the “dawn of our solar system.” The near-Earth asteroid, called 2001 FO32, was discovered in March 2001 by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) program in Socorro, New Mexico. The asteroid completes one orbit around the Sun every 810 days.
“We know the orbital path of 2001 FO32 around the Sun very accurately, since it was discovered 20 years ago and has been tracked ever since,” Paul Chodas, director of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), said in a statement.
Here’s all you need to know about the asteroid:
1. It will make its closest approach at a distance of about 2 million kilometres, equivalent to 5.25 times the distance from Earth to the Moon.
2. The 2001 FO32 asteroid has been designated a “potentially hazardous asteroid” due to its closeness to the planet in astronomical terms.
3. During this approach, the asteroid will pass by at about 124,000 kilometres per hour, which is faster than the speed at which most asteroids encounter Earth.
4. The reason for the unusually speedy close approach has been attributed to the asteroid’s highly inclined and elongated orbit around the Sun.
5. The orbit is tilted 39 degrees to Earth’s orbital plane, taking the asteroid closer to the Sun than Mercury and twice as far from the Sun as Mars.
6. At the time of discovery, the size of the asteroid had been estimated to be roughly 1 kilometre wide but recent observations suggest the object is likely between 440 to 680 metres wide.
7. The 2001 FO32 is somewhat smaller than the last notably large asteroid close approach -- the 1998 OR2 asteroid passed by Earth on April 29, 2020 -- but it will be three times nearer to Earth.
8. According to the Paris Observatory, the asteroid will be at its closest to Earth at around 4.00pm GMT (9.30pm IST) on March 21, 2021.
9. There is no threat of a collision with Earth currently or for centuries to come, according to Nasa.
10. Chodas said that the asteroid will be the brightest when it moves through southern skies. “Amateur astronomers in the southern hemisphere and at low northern latitudes should be able to see this asteroid using moderate size telescopes with apertures of at least 8 inches in the nights leading up to closest approach, but they will probably need star charts to find it,” he added.