The Asteroid with a Face Mask is Coming - Astronomy News with The Cosmic Companion

Asteroid 1998 OR2 will pass (safely) by the Earth on April 29. A new image shows a structure resembling a face mask.

1998 OR2 — an asteroid wearing a face mask — is visiting Earth. Did it hear about the pandemic?

By James Maynard

Dr. Anne Virkki, head of Planetary Radar at the Arecibo Observatory, discovered the timely feature on the asteroid.
She is scheduled to visit Astronomy News with The Cosmic Companion (virtually!) on May 5 — make sure to listen on any major podcast provider.

An asteroid with a face mask — 1998 OR2 — is coming to pay Earth a visit at the end of April. Appropriately for our time, this asteroid appears to be prepared with the now-familiar face gear for its approach.

Asteroid (52768) 1998 OR2, roughly the size of the isle of Manhattan, will pass by Earth on April 29. There’s no chance of collision — not only is 1998 OR2 wearing a mask, it will also observe proper social distancing.

At its closest approach to Earth, the asteroid will miss our home world by 6.3 million kilometers (3.9 million miles) — more than 16 times the distance between the Earth and Moon.

Radio images taken of the object by astronomers at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, reveal a geological feature that would normally be thought of as a scientific curiosity. In today’s world rocked by the pandemic, the shape recalls another, suddenly familiar, image.

“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,” Dr. Anne Virkki, head of Planetary Radar at the Arecibo Observatory, stated.

Tune in to NEO Radio…

Asteroid 1998 OR2 measures somewhere between 1.8 to 4.1 kilometers (1.1 to 2.5 miles) in diameter. As the body orbits through the space between Earth and Mars, it rotates once every 4.1 hours. This rotation, first suggested by optical observations, was confirmed by radio observations conducted at Arecibo.

The asteroid is listed as a potentially hazardous object (PHO) by NASA, as are all objects larger than 140 meters (500 feet) in diameter that cross within five percent of the distance between the Earth and Sun.

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