Watch as a near-Earth asteroid heads back out to space

An image of an asteroid in space.
Artist's concept of a near-Earth object.
Courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech

By the time you read this, the asteroid known as 1998 OR2 will have passed its closest position to Earth during its “close approach” to our planet Wednesday, speeding along at about 19,500 miles per hour.

According to NASA, the approximately 1.5-mile-wide object will have gotten as close as 3.9 million miles to Earth at about 4:55 a.m. Central Time. While that’s considered “close” to astronomers, it’s still more than 16 times farther away than the moon.

Even so, 1998 OR2 is categorized as a large “potentially hazardous asteroid” because very slight changes to the asteroid’s orbit over the course of millennia may result in the object becoming a larger threat to Earth than it is now.

A rendering of the orbit of the asteroid along with other planets.
A rendering of the orbit of asteroid 1998 OR2. It requires 3 years and 8 months to orbit the sun once.
Courtesy of NASA/JPL

“This is one of the reasons why tracking this asteroid during its close approach is important, as observations such as these will enable an even better long-term assessment of the hazard presented by this asteroid,” according to a NASA news release Tuesday. NASA also notes it’s extremely unlikely to see an impact over the next century by this object or any of the near-Earth asteroids that they are monitoring.

At about 1:30 p.m., the Virtual Telescope Project in Italy, which consists of several robotic telescopes that are remotely accessible in real-time over the internet, will offer a live stream of the asteroid.

However, since 1998 OR2 — which was discovered by NASA’s Near-Asteroid Tracking program in July 1998 — is relatively large, so it’s possible to spot the asteroid using a small telescope. Learn more at EarthSky.org.

Before you keep reading ...

MPR News is made by Members. Gifts from individuals fuel the programs that you and your neighbors rely on. Donate today to power news, analysis, and community conversations for all.