ARECIBO, Puerto Rico – Face masks have become common place on Earth due to the coronavirus pandemic, but what about in space?
Scientists at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico snapped a photo that appears to show a mask on an asteroid that is approaching Earth's "neighborhood."
“The small-scale topographic features such as hills and ridges on one end of asteroid 1998 OR2 are fascinating scientifically,” said Anne Virkki, head of Planetary Radar at the observatory. “But since we are all thinking about COVID-19 these features make it look like 1998 OR2 remembered to wear a mask.”
The observatory says the asteroid, called 1998 OR2, doesn’t pose a threat to us, but joked it appears to know our planet is facing a pandemic.
The asteroid will make its closest approach to Earth on Wednesday, April 29, but it will still be 16 times farther than the distance to the Moon.
The asteroid is massive. It’s in a special class called Potentially Hazardous Objects (PHOs), which are bigger than 500 feet and come within 5 million miles of Earth’s orbit. Scientists says 1998 OR2 is about 1.2 miles across in size and rotates once every 4.1 hours.
The National Science Foundation facility, which is managed by the University of Central Florida, has a team of experts who monitors near-Earth asteroids. The team is monitoring this one to help prepare for closer approaches in the future.
The asteroid is actually expected to pass Earth again, but 3.5 times closer, in 2079.