Officially dubbed Asteroid (52768) 1998 OR2, the space rock will come within 3.9 million miles (6.29 million km) of our planet – that is 16 times the distance to the Moon. The asteroid is classified as a near-Earth object (NEO), meaning it orbits the Sun within 1.3 astronomical units (au) – about 120,842,549 miles. Every month dozens of Near-Earth Asteroids come within 0.05 au of Earth – about 4,647,790 miles from our planet.
This asteroid will be closest to Earth on Wednesday, April 29, but you can already watch the flyby tonight.
Courtesy of the Virtual Telescope Project in Italy, the flyby will be streamed live and free of charge.
Dr Gianluca Masi, head of the Virtual Telescope, said the asteroid’s sheer size will make it bright enough for telescopes to track.
Watch the asteroid’s flyby in the embedded YouTube live stream below.
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What do we know about the Asteroid (52768) 1998 OR?
The space rock was first spotted in the solar system in 1998 and has since been tracked by NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS).
With nearly 30 years of observations under its belt, the US space agency is very confident the rock does not pose any threat to Earth.
NASA’s initial estimates show Astroid OR2 measures somewhere between 0.9 miles and 2.54 miles (1.5km and 4.1km) in diameter.
More recent radar photos snapped by the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico have narrowed the asteroid down to just 1.2 miles (2km) across.
The Observatory said: “The Arecibo Observatory is using its powerful radar system to track (52768) 1998 OR2, a near-Earth asteroid that will safely pass the Earth at a distance 16 times further than the distance to the Moon on April 29.
“The radar data confirm that 1998 OR2 is approximately 2km in diameter and rotates once every 4.1 hours, as was suggested by optical observations.
Ridges on one end of asteroid 1998 OR2 are fascinating scientifically
“The range-Doppler images uniquely revealed the overall shape of the asteroid and some smaller-scale topographic features, such as hills and ridges.”
Anne Virkki, head of Planetary Radar at the Observatory, jokingly said the asteroid appears to be wearing a facemask in the pictures.
She said: “The small-scale topographic features such as hills and ridges on one end of asteroid 1998 OR2 are fascinating scientifically.
“But since we are all thinking about COVID-19 these features make it look like 1998 OR2 remembered to wear a mask.”
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How to watch the Asteroid OR2 live tonight:
The Virtual Telescope Project will stream the asteroid’s flyby live tonight from Italy.
Dr Masi said he will track the space rock, starting at 7pm BST (6pm UTC).
The Virtual Telescope hosts its free live streams on its website and YouTube for all to enjoy.
You can also watch the stream in the video player below – simply hit play before the broadcast starts.
Dr Masi joins the streams to discuss astronomy and the science behind the observed phenomena.
The astrophysicist said: “The Virtual Telescope Project will show it live, thanks to its advanced technologies, bringing it to you via the Internet.
“This way, you can join the journey from the comfort of your home.
“Our online observing session will cover the final moments of its safe, close approach.
“The live feed will start on April 28, 2020, at 6pm UTC