Scientists and star gazers alike have been looking to the sky this past weekend in awe as they watched the largest asteroid in our lifetimes to make a close pathway near Earth. The event, which happened on Sunday 21st March 2021, was a historic moment that marked the climax of a twenty year journey following the asteroid since its discovery in 2001.
The asteroid was named 2001 FO32 in accordance with the year and sequence of its discovery. It will next be seen passing the Earth in 2052 when it will be seen at a slightly further distance. This time, the asteroid will pass by Earth at a distance estimated around five and a quarter times the distance between the Earth and the Moon. In 2052, that distance is expected to be around seven times the distance to the Moon.
Despite passing unusually close to the Earth and being labelled by scientists as ‘potentially hazardous’, NASA experts say the asteroid is not expected to collide with the Earth in the next few centuries at least. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California runs the Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS). Paul Chodas is the director for CNEOS and commented that “There is no chance the asteroid will get any closer to Earth than 1.25 million miles.”
The asteroid 2001 FO32 is of particular interest to scientists as it flew particularly fast past the Earth, at a march faster velocity than asteroids that have passed previously. 2001 F032 is guessed to have flown past the Earth at roughly 77,000 miles per hour or around 124,000 kilometres per hour. The asteroid follows an elongated and inclined orbit around the Sun that causes it to travel past the Earth at such fast speeds.
Scientists will be looking to study the surface of the asteroid to understand its composition further and invite data sent in by the public.