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A huge asteroid is about to give the Earth a close shave, and you can watch it happen from the comfort of your own quarantine.
A big hunk of space rock, poetically named 1998 OR2, will come within four million miles of Earth on Thursday around 5 am, eastern time, and it’ll be live streamed. The asteroid, the biggest asteroid to pass the planet this year, is estimated to be about two miles wide and traveling at a speed of about 19,000 miles per hour. Any big asteroid that passes within five million miles of the Earth is considered “potentially hazardous,” but this one doesn’t pose any threat to the planet, according to astronomers.
A few live streams are happening that will let viewers catch a glimpse of 1998 OR2 as it passes by Earth. Virtual Telescope Project, a bunch of remotely controlled scopes that are accessible over the internet, will start its stream on Wednesday at 2:30 pm, eastern.
Four million miles might seem pretty far away, but in the vastness of space, a few million miles isn’t a whole lot. It’s just 16 times the distance between the moon and Earth. And astronomers still can’t perfectly predict the path of asteroids — it could pass closer.
For super fans of space rocks, there’s a Zoom “star party” happening for paid members of Slooh.com, an community-run astronomy website that has access to a number of remotely-accessible telescopes across several continents. Experts will be on the Zoom, answering questions about the big rock.
The next time it passes through, it’ll come way closer to the planet. That means astronomers will be watching this pass closely to make sure they can accurately chart its orbit and assess any future risk of collision.
“In 2079, asteroid 1998 OR2 will pass Earth about 3.5 times closer than it will this year, so it is important to know its orbit precisely,” Flaviane Venditti, a research scientist at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico told The Guardian.
Cover: Artist's concept of a near-Earth object. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech