The largest asteroid to cross Earth this year will approach approximately 1.25 million miles (two million kilometers) from our planet on March 21, NASA said Thursday.
The US space agency said it would allow astronomers to observe an asteroid up close.
The asteroid, 2001 FO32, is estimated to be around 3,000 feet in diameter and was discovered 20 years ago, NASA said.
“We know very precisely the orbital path of the 2001 FO32 around the Sun,” said Paul Chodas, director of the Center for Near Earth Object Studies. “There is no chance that the asteroid will approach Earth within 1.25 million kilometers.”
This is roughly 5.25 times the distance from Earth to the Moon, but still close enough that FO32 2001 is classified as a “potentially dangerous asteroid”.
NASA has stated that 2001 FO32 will pass at about 77,000 miles per hour faster than the speed at which most asteroids encounter Earth.
“Currently, little is known about this object, so the very close encounter offers an exceptional opportunity to learn a lot about this asteroid,” said Lance Benner, senior scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
NASA said astronomers hope to gain a better understanding of the asteroid’s size and a rough idea of its makeup by studying the light reflecting off its surface.
“When sunlight hits the surface of an asteroid, minerals in the rock absorb certain wavelengths while reflecting others,” NASA said. “By studying the spectrum of light reflected off the surface, astronomers can measure chemical ‘fingerprints’ of minerals on the asteroid’s surface.”
Amateur astronomers in some parts of the globe should be able to conduct their own observations.
“The asteroid will be the brightest when it moves across the southern sky,” Chodas said.
“Amateur astronomers in the southern hemisphere and at lower northern latitudes should be able to see this asteroid using medium-sized telescopes with apertures of at least eight inches at night leading to the closest approach. , but they’ll probably need star maps to find it. “
NASA said more than 95% of near-Earth asteroids the size of 2001 FO32 or larger have been cataloged and none of them stand a chance of impacting our planet in the next century.