Mask-Wearing Asteroid Does Its Fly-by

The rock known as 52768 (1998 OR2) got within about 3.9M miles of Earth
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 29, 2020 8:23 AM CDT
Asteroid Zooms by Us, 'Remembers to Wear a Mask'
An image of 1998 OR2.   (Arecibo Observatory/Twitter)

The mask-wearing asteroid that so amused scientists has made its pass by Earth, albeit at a great distance. NASA reports the closest approach of the 1.2-mile-wide rock known as 52768 (1998 OR2) was set to happen at 5:55am ET some 3,908,791 miles from Earth, or more than 16 times the distance between us and the moon. It's been watched by scientists for two decades—1998 is the year it was first observed. NASA points out that the close approach of an asteroid so large is a rare occurrence, happening roughly every five years. The last one to zoom by us in this category did so in September 2017 at 18 times the distance between us and the moon.

CNN has this all-too-appropriate quote from the head of planetary radar at Arecibo Observatory, which has been monitoring the asteroid: "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." But it's just goodbye for now when it comes to 1998 OR2: The Press Association reports the asteroid will fly by us in 2079, but about 3.5 times closer than its Wednesday approach, or more like four times the distance to the moon. (The asteroid that passed us in 2017 was named Florence.)

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