As the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, ANU astronomer Dr Brad Tucker says we can be thankful that humanity will be spared from another catastrophe tonight, 29 April, when a ‘potentially hazardous’ asteroid skims past Earth.
He said Asteroid 1998 OR2, which is about four kilometres in diameter and travelling 36,000 kilometres per hour based on the latest data from the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico, will pass the Earth at a distance of 6.2 million kilometres at 6.56 pm AEDT tonight – far enough away to allow us not to panic.
“This asteroid poses no danger to the Earth and will not hit – it is one catastrophe we won’t have,” said Dr Tucker from the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics.
“The orbit is pretty stable. However, it does move around the Solar System and will come back in 2079 when it will be much closer then (but still far away though),” he said.
“While it is big, it is still smaller than the asteroid that impacted the Earth and wiped out the dinosaurs.”
Dr Tucker said an asteroid is classified as “potentially hazardous” if it is 150 metres in diameter or bigger, and it passes Earth within 7.5 million kilometres.
“And while it’s far enough away to not cause concern about planet-wide extinction, the asteroid will still be close enough for us to see,” he said.
Given the weather in Canberra today, Dr Tucker said it is unlikely that we will see it tonight. However, the Virtual Telescope Project will be streaming the flyby so people can watch it online.
“Avid amateur astronomers will be able to catch a glimpse of the bright rock as it hurtles along in space, through a small telescope, by looking near the constellation Centaurus in the night sky.”