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Big asteroid shows itself ahead of Earth flyby on April 29 (photo)

The Arecibo Observatory captured this radar image of the big asteroid 1998 OR2 on April 18, 2020. 1998 OR2 will fly by Earth at a distance of 3.9 million miles (6.3 million kilometers) on April 29.
The Arecibo Observatory captured this radar image of the big asteroid 1998 OR2 on April 18, 2020. 1998 OR2 will fly by Earth at a distance of 3.9 million miles (6.3 million kilometers) on April 29.
(Image: © Arecibo Observatory/NASA/NSF)

We've now got a good visual on the big space rock that's going to fly by Earth next week.

On Saturday (April 18), the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico captured a radar image of the asteroid 1998 OR2, which will zoom within 3.9 million miles (6.3 million kilometers) of our planet on April 29. 

For perspective: The moon orbits Earth at an average distance of about 239,000 miles (385,000 km). So we have nothing to fear from asteroid 1998 OR2's Earth flyby on April 29, scientists stress.

Related: Potentially dangerous asteroids (images)

Arecibo team members have been wearing masks in the workplace to help minimize the spread of the novel coronavirus, and they apparently see a bit of themselves in the approaching space rock.

"#TeamRadar and the @NAICobservatory staff are taking the proper safety measures as we continue observations. This week we have been observing near-Earth asteroid 1998 OR2, which looks like it's wearing a mask! It's at least 1.5 km across and is passing 16 lunar distances away!" team members tweeted on Saturday via the @AreciboRadar account. (@AreciboRadar is not an official Arecibo account. But @NAICobservatory is, and it retweeted the April 18 post.)

The Arecibo researchers aren't the only ones keeping an eye on 1998 OR2. For example, Italian astrophysicist Gianluca Masi, who runs the online Virtual Telescope Project, has been tracking the asteroid as well.

And Masi will continue to do so. On April 28, in fact, he will host a live webcast about 1998 OR2 that will feature telescope views of the object. 

Astronomers estimate that 1998 OR2 is between 1.1 and 2.5 miles (1.8 to 4.1 kilometers) wide — big enough that an impact could threaten human civilization. But, to repeat, there is nothing to fear here; the asteroid will miss us by a large margin on April 29. 

Indeed, you should quell any general death-from-above fears that may be running rampant in your head. NASA has found and tracked the vast majority of giant near-Earth asteroids, and none of them pose a threat to Earth for the foreseeable future.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook

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