THE largest asteroid to make a ‘close approach’ to Earth in 2021 is set to shoot past this month.
Nasa has been keeping a close eye on the space rock and says astronomers should be able to get a good look at it.
The asteroid is called 2001 FO32 and could be up to 3,000 feet (900 meters) wide.
That would make it larger than the Burj Khalifa, which is the tallest building in the world and stands at just over 2,700 feet.
Don’t panic though, Nasa thinks the whopping asteroid will pass Earth at a distance of around 1.25 million miles.
That’s about 5.25 times the distance between Earth and the Moon.
How close the asteroid will come to Earth is highlighted one this chart, Earth is represented in blue and the asteroid’s orbit is in whiteCredit: NASA/JPL
However, in terms of space this is pretty close so the Nasa has had to put 2001 FO32 on its ‘close approach’ list just incase.
Any fast moving space object that comes within around 4.65 million miles is considered to be “potentially hazardous” by cautious space organisations.
The giant asteroid was actually discovered by astronomers 20 years ago.
It’s expected to shoot past us at 77,000 miles on Sunday, March 21.
Paul Chodas, director of the Center for Near Earth Object Studies, said: “We know the orbital path of 2001 FO32 around the Sun very accurately, since it was discovered 20 years ago and has been tracked ever since.
“There is no chance the asteroid will get any closer to Earth than 1.25 million miles.”
Unfortunately, the asteroid won’t be visible to stargazers all over the world but some people in the southern hemisphere may see it.
Chodas added: “Amateur astronomers in the southern hemisphere and at low northern latitudes should be able to see this asteroid using moderate size telescopes with apertures of at least 8 inches in the nights leading up to closest approach, but they will probably need star charts to find it.”
What’s the difference between an asteroid, meteor and comet?
- Asteroid: An asteroid is a small rocky body that orbits the Sun. Most are found in the asteroid belt (between Mars and Jupiter) but they can be found anywhere (including in a path that can impact Earth)
- Meteoroid: When two asteroids hit each other, the small chunks that break off are called meteoroids
- Meteor: If a meteoroid enters the Earth’s atmosphere, it begins to vapourise and then becomes a meteor. On Earth, it’ll look like a streak of light in the sky, because the rock is burning up
- Meteorite: If a meteoroid doesn’t vapourise completely and survives the trip through Earth’s atmosphere, it can land on the Earth. At that point, it becomes a meteorite
- Comet: Like asteroids, a comet orbits the Sun. However rather than being made mostly of rock, a comet contains lots of ice and gas, which can result in amazing tails forming behind them (thanks to the ice and dust vapourising)
In other space news, Nasa has released historic first audio recordings captured on the surface of Mars.
China and Russia have pledged to build a shared Moon base, marking the start of a new era in space cooperation between the two countries.
And, Jupiter and Saturn made a close approach to the Moon this week.
What are your thoughts on the mega-astroid heading our way? Let us know in the comments…
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