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Largest asteroid to pass Earth this year will zoom by on March 21

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The largest asteroid predicted to pass by Earth this year will reach its closest point on March 21.

The space rock, which formed at the dawn of the solar system and was discovered in March 2001, is called 2001 FO32.

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According to a Thursday NASA release, the asteroid won’t come any closer than 1.25 million miles — five and a quarter times the distance from the Earth to the moon — and will fly by at 77,000 miles per hour.

Researchers believe the asteroid’s diameter is likely less than 1 kilometer.

There is no present threat of a collision with Earth, nor will there be for centuries to come. 

That said, 2001 FO32’s path will present astronomers with a rare opportunity to closely observe the planetoid because 1.25 million miles is still relatively close in astronomical terms. 

NASA explained that this technicality is the reason why the asteroid has been designated “potentially hazardous” and the agency assured that NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) works to “help precisely characterize every NEO’s orbit to improve long-term hazard assessments.”

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“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,” CNEOS Director Paul Chodas said. “There is no chance the asteroid will get any closer to Earth than 1.25 million miles.”

In addition, the asteroid’s speedy approach is due to its steeply inclined and elongated orbit around the sun.

After its March 21 fly-by, 2001 FO32 won’t come close to the Earth again until 2052. The asteroid will be visible with a moderate-sized telescope with apertures of at least 8 inches in the nights leading up to the closest approach.

The last notably large asteroid close to the Earth was 1998 OR2 in April of last year. 

More than 95% of near-Earth asteroids the size of 2001 FO32 have been discovered and tracked and none of the large asteroids has any chance of impacting Earth over the next century, according to the agency.

2020 saw a record number of asteroids fly past the Earth, according to the scientific journal Nature. 

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It reported on Thursday that scientists had cataloged 2,958 previously unknown near-Earth asteroids despite the COVID-19 pandemic, at least 107 of which had passed Earth at a distance less than that of the Moon.

The current known asteroid count is 1,068,721.

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