The beginning of this new decade has had a rough start. From the bush fires in Australia to the locust invasion in Eastern Africa to the Coronavirus outbreak worldwide. It seems like the world cannot catch a break. But things only get worse; there is yet another thing that holds a potential threat to our safety. It’s name? OR2, officially known as (52768) 1998 OR2. It’s an asteroid, and it’s course is headed at a dangerously close distance to us. 4 million miles to be exact, or about 16 times the Earth to moon distance is. Although this is a safe distance for the asteroid to pass, this space rock is huge—half the height of Mt. Everest—and it will come its closest on April 29 around 5:56 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time.
Traveling at the speed of 19,460 mph and 1 km to 2.5 km wide, an asteroid of this size is capable of ending human civilization, if it hits us that is. Though collision chances are low, this impending “doom-rock” is on NASA’s Potentially Hazardous Objects list. Not because of its size; larger asteroids have passed earth just fine. But because this rock periodically passes by earth. In fact, OR2 is projected to pass earth several more times within the next century. It’s closest calculated passing will be on April 16, 2079 with a distance of little under 1 million miles away (only three times the earth-moon distance).
These flybys are closely monitored by NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (NEOs) who determine space object’s size, traveling speed, and collision likelihood. Where we stand now, OR2 poses no imminent threat to us, but we can sleep safe knowing any possible dangers are being closely watched and well prepared for. Professional and amateur astronomers all have their telescopes out, ready to observe this passing. Although this quarantine has got us up stuck inside the house, you can grab a telescope and join in on the viewing of this slow moving “star.” If you don't have access to a telescope, the Virtual Telescope Project in Rome will host a public viewing of the asteroid beginning the eve of the flyby.