No threat to Earth as huge asteroid passes by | Science and Technology News

Asteroid 2001 FO32 is coming closest to Earth, giving astronomers the opportunity to study the rock as it passes.

The largest asteroid to cross Earth this year has made its closest approach, posing no threat of cataclysmic collision but giving astronomers a rare chance to study a rock formed early in our solar system.

The asteroid was two million kilometers (1.25 million miles) from its closest, according to NASA – more than five times the distance between Earth and the Moon but still close enough to be classified as a “potentially dangerous asteroid.”

NASA tracks and catalogs such objects that could potentially crash into Earth and trigger massive destruction, like the massive asteroid that wiped out 75% of life on the planet 66 million years ago.

Asteroid 2001 FO32, discovered 20 years ago, was too far away to be so dangerous even as it reached its closest point to Earth around 2:00 p.m. GMT on Sunday, according to the Paris Observatory. NASA said it was traveling at around 124,000 km / h (77,000 mph).

“Oh yes, my friends! Do you see this point of light? This point of light is the asteroid, ”exclaimed astrophysicist Gianluca Masi of the Italy-based Virtual Telescope Project, who had trained his lenses on the rock on Monday shortly after his closest approach.

“How happy I am, how proud I am, how excited I am… to bring this to you live,” Masi said, posting a grainy image of a faint spot during a broadcast on YouTube.

Astronomers hoped to better understand the composition of the rock estimated at 900 meters (3,000 feet) by the way.

“When sunlight hits the surface of an asteroid, minerals in the rock absorb certain wavelengths while reflecting others,” NASA said.

“By studying the spectrum of light reflected off the surface, astronomers can measure the chemical ‘fingerprints’ of minerals on the asteroid’s surface.”

Because of its elongated orbit, NASA said it “picks up speed like a skateboarder rolling on a halfpipe, then slows down after being sent back into deep space and flipped toward the Sun”.

Potential threats

Studying the asteroids and comets that come so close to our planet – dubbed the Near-Earth Object, or NEO – gives scientists a better understanding of the history and dynamics of the solar system.

It’s also a valuable database of potential threats – an impact of a huge boulder from space could devastate the entire planet.

About 80 to 100 tons of materials such as dust and small meteorites fall to Earth every day, according to NASA, posing no serious threat, but larger objects can cause major destruction as they possess immense momentum due to their high speed.

In 2013, an object nearly 60 meters wide exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk, triggering 30 times the force of the nuclear bomb dropped over Hiroshima during World War II.

Experts believe that such events take place once or twice a century, and hits by larger objects are even rarer.

NASA said more than 95% of near-Earth asteroids the size of 2001 FO32 or larger have been cataloged, and none of them stand a chance of impacting our planet in the next century.

The agency is studying potential ways to counteract an impact from an asteroid or comet, including slamming a spacecraft into the object to deflect it and even nuclear explosions as a last resort.

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