Huge asteroid to fly by Earth the morning of April 29

Don’t panic if you look up into the early morning sky on Wednesday and see an object streaking across. It’s just asteroid 1998 OR2, also called 52768, saying hi to Earth.

An asteroid discovered by researchers at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena more than two decades ago will whiz past the Earth early Wednesday morning in what is considered a "close approach," but it won't get within about 3.9 million miles.

The asteroid, dubbed 1998 OR2, is roughly 1.5 miles wide, and JPL officials said they'll take advantage of the flyby to study the galactic traveler, which won't get this close again until 2079.

The asteroid was discovered by JPL's Near-Earth Asteroid Tracking program in July 1998. JPL officials said that although this trip past the Earth -- expected at 2:55 a.m. Wednesday -- will be millions of miles away, 1998 OR2 is still considered a "potentially hazardous asteroid.'' JPL officials noted that the asteroid can undergo slight changes in its path over the centuries that could potentially put it on a collision course with Earth.

in a twist of fate, experts at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico pointed out that the asteroid looks to be wearing a face mask, just like people on Earth amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“The small-scale topographic features such as hills and ridges on one end of asteroid 1998 OR2 are fascinating scientifically,” head of planetary radar Anne Virkki told CNN. “But since we are all thinking about COVID-19, these features make it look like 1998 OR2 remembered to wear a mask.”

The Arecibo Observatory, which is supported by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program, raised the alarm over asteroid 52768, since it’s more than 500 feet long and coming within 5 million miles of Earth’s orbit.

“The radar measurements allow us to know more precisely where the asteroid will be in the future, including its future close approaches to Earth,” researcher Flaviane Venditti told CNN. “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.”

The largest asteroid known to pass Earth was 3122 Florence, which sailed by in 2017. It will be back, according to the Near-Earth Object Observations Program, on Sept. 2, 2057.

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