Astronauts around the world will be exploring the heavens this weekend as the largest asteroid to fly with Earth in 2021 is the closest pass to Sunday. Astronauts really want to look at the asteroid because it has survived from the birth of our solar system. The asteroid, known as 2001FO32, is large and fast, and although it comes very close to Earth, it still passes us at great speed.
2001FO32 is considered a “potentially dangerous asteroid” and has been around since its discovery in 2001. Distances on a cosmic scale are enormous, and the asteroid only comes inside. 1.25 million miles from Earth. To put that in perspective, to cover the thousands of miles on our planet, you had to travel around the globe 50 times.
NASA’s Paul Chodas says there is no chance the asteroid will come closer to Earth than 1.25 million miles. At that great distance, there is no worry about colliding with the planet. NASA says there needs to be no concern about the huge potential for this particular asteroid to affect Earth for centuries to come.
2001FO32 is between 1300 and 2230 feet wide. Interestingly, when the asteroid was discovered in 2001, scientists thought it was about 3000 feet wide. When the asteroid passes Earth tomorrow, it will allow researchers to get better measurements. Astronauts are also hoping to kick off radar signals off the asteroid using dish antennas from NASA’s Deep Space Network to better understand its size and rate of orbit.
NASA also plans to try to find surface features or if the asteroid has small satellites. The asteroid travels at about 77,000 miles per hour when it passes Earth, faster than most asteroids. As the asteroid passes over Earth at high speed, NASA says it will be able to see amateur astronauts with the right equipment.