‘Face-mask’ asteroid to practice social distancing today

Thankfully the large asteroid 52768 (1998 OR2) will fly by Earth at a safe distance
asteroid "This is as close as I'm coming, Earth!" (Arecibo Observatory/NASA/NSF)

If we were to tell you that even asteroids and comets are practicing social distancing right now due to COVID-19, you would rightfully call us silly.

But then we'd ask you to look at the image above and say, "Look, it's even wearing a face mask!" And you'd say...

No, really. I thought I asked you to stop being silly.

And you know what? You'd be right to say that. But either way, we're grateful that the asteroid known as 52768 (1998 OR2) will be respecting our personal space as it flies by Earth today.

Because at somewhere between 1.8 and 4.1 kilometres (1.1 – 2.5 miles) wide, this thing would leave quite the mark on our planet if we collided.

Zoom call


This graph shows how close the asteroid will come relative to the rest of our solar system. (Arecibo Observatory)

This asteroid is really going to be zooming during today's fly-by. Its speed will be about 19,641 miles per hour. Wow! And how close will it come again?

Well, that's the good part. Because in a place as huge as our solar system, flying close by still means it will only get as close as 6,290,589 kilometres (3,908,791 miles) away. That's 16 times the distance from here to the Moon, or about 1,700 times the distance between Montreal and Vancouver.

So, why are we talking about this again?

Because when we're talking about giant islands of rock shooting through space like cannonballs, it's always worth talking about!

Eye on the sky

Embed from Getty Images

The Arecibo Observatory is one of the largest radio telescopes in the world. (Getty Embed)

Astronomers at places like the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico make it their job to know exactly what is flying around our home and when. In the case of this asteroid, they've known about it since 1998 — and have also known that it would fly by us today.

So they also get to take cool pictures of it and make jokes about it wearing a face mask.

In reality, the asteroid actually has a number of mountain-like features on one side. But according to Anne Virkki, head of planetary radar at Arecibo Observatory, "since we are all thinking about Covid-19, these features make it look like 1998 OR2 remembered to wear a mask."

We would just like to remind 52768 (1998 OR2) that social distancing has not yet been relaxed in Canada, so please stay up there. Yes, that's right.


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