According to Space.com (and other sources) a "giant potentially hazardous asteroid will fly safely by Earth in April."
The asteroid, known affectionately as Asteroid (52768) 1998 OR2, will approach within 3.9 million miles of Earth before moving on with its orbit (yes, it will be back). It's been measured to be about a mile wide and two miles long, traveling at about 20,000 miles per hour, and it will be making it's closest approach to Earth on April 29 at 5:56 a.m. – or about the time you're headed to work, if you happen to be essential. (See here)
The good news is that despite its size, speed and orbit, it is not – repeat, it is not – on a collision course with Earth. Even so, I'm still trying to justify "potentially hazardous" with "fly safely by" in the same breath. I guess "potentially" is the key word here.
It turns out the flying rock has been classified "potentially hazardous" by the Center for Near Earth Objects (yes, there is such a thing) because it meets its guidelines of a deep-space object coming within 19 lunar distances from Earth. A lunar distance is how far the moon is from the Earth (about 260,000 miles). OR2 will come within 16 lunar distances. You might feel the breeze as it hurtles by.
And in case you miss it (or if it misses us), OR2 will be back in 2079, coming within a hair-raising million miles of Earth (or a chilling four lunar distances). The fact is, OR2's orbit has been charted for the next 200 years. So there.
|Is Asteroid OR2 wearing a face mask? Looks more like a bra.|
The current global COVID-19 pandemic also is a factor here. Snopes.com, a fact-checking Internet site, has had to quell a Facebook rumor or two that the pandemic actually was created by conspiracy-minded deep staters as a distraction from the fears of an impending extinction collision.
Fighting panic with panic, I guess.
And there's actually a digital image of OR2, apparently in profile, showing slipstream flares, that has been interpreted by some as the asteroid is wearing a face mask. I'm not even going there with that one. Paranoia strikes hard.
And, besides, is there a slipstream in the vacuum of space? That's beyond my pay grade.
In the meantime, wear your face mask. And wash your hands.