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Large asteroid to pass Earth on first full day of spring, March 21

Posted at 11:41 AM, Mar 12, 2021

A large asteroid is expected to pass by Earth on the first full day of spring, March 21.

At 1,300 to 2,230 feet wide, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory says 2001 FO32 is the largest asteroid predicted to pass by our planet this year.

Astronomers expect 2001 FO32 will make its closest approach at a distance of about 1.25 million miles. That’s more than five time the distance from Earth to the Moon. Luckily, they say there’s no threat of a collision with our planet now or for centuries to come.

“We know the orbital path of 2001 FO32 around the Sun very accurately, since it was discovered 20 years ago and has been tracked ever since,” said Paul Chodas, director of the Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS). “There is no chance the asteroid will get any closer to Earth than 1.25 million miles.”

Still, in astronomical terms, the asteroid will still come close, which is why it has been designated a “potentially hazardous asteroid.”

The asteroid is also traveling an incredible speed. During its approach, NASA says 2001 FO32 will pass by at about 77,000 mph, faster than the speed at which most asteroids encounter Earth.

After its brief visit this month, the asteroid will continue “its lonely voyage” and not come this close to Earth again until 2052, according to NASA.

The passing asteroid will present a valuable scientific opportunity for astronomers who hope to get a more precise understanding of its size, how reflective its surface is, and get a rough idea of its composition.

This will be achieved, in part, with the use of NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility, a 10.5-foot telescope atop Hawaii’s Mauna Kea that will observe the asteroid in the days leading up to close approach using its workhorse infrared spectrograph, SpeX.