A Big Asteroid Will Fly By Earth At A Safe Distance Next Month

Artist's impression of an asteroid in space. Dotted Yeti/Shutterstock

At the end of April, a bright and large near-Earth asteroid will come "close" to our planet, but don't worry that "close" flyby is still at a safe distance.

The asteroid is known as (52768) 1998 OR2, or just 1998 OR2 for short. On April 29, it will fly by Earth at a distance of 6.29 million kilometers (3.9 million miles) – that’s over 16 times the average Earth-Moon distance, or about 494 Earths.

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You might be wondering why there’s been media focus on this object if it won't hit Earth. Apart from the fear-hype on social media, this object is significant in size. Assuming it is a stony asteroid reflecting sunlight in a regular way, 1998 OR2 is about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) across. If it were to hit Earth, it would certainly lead to devastation on a global scale. However, in all likelihood, it is not going to hit our planet.

Based on current observations, it is not going to get closer to Earth than next month's passage until April 16, 2079, and even then it will be still further out than the Moon.

Orbit and current position of 1998 OR2. NASA/JPL Small-Body Database

Ever since the object was first discovered in 1998, astronomers have been keeping an eye on it. It was spotted as part of efforts to characterize every single dangerous near-Earth object out there. While most of the largest objects are now cataloged, scientists estimate that many dangerous but not world-ending objects are still yet to be found.

We often cover close flybys of objects no bigger than a house. The danger of these is relative. They could destroy buildings or a small town, but they wouldn’t end humanity. More worrying though is that most of these objects are only seen when they are close to Earth already, and some like the Chelyabinsk bolide of 2013 need to explode over a populated area to be detected.

 

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