On March 21, a giant asteroid will fly past our planet. The news is concerning because it is the largest known asteroid to fly past Earth in 2021.
The enormous celestial body, called 2001 FO32, is one of the many “near-Earth objects” (also known as NEOs) that orbit the sun in our celestial proximity.
The term refers to objects with trajectories that come at a distance within 30 million miles of our planet’s orbital path around the sun.
NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (known as CNEOS) stated that approximately 25,000 NEOs had been discovered to date. Most of them are asteroids, and a bunch of them are comets.
Over 2,100 of the near-Earth objects are labeled as “potentially hazardous.” What does that term mean, though?
Officially, potentially hazardous NEOs are those with orbits that approach our planet’s path around the sun closer than 4.6 million miles while also being over 460 feet in diameter.
Paul Chodas, CNEOS director, previously told Newsweek that objects are labeled as potentially hazardous because they are in orbits that “come close enough to Earth’s that is possible ver many centuries and millennia they might evolve into Earth-crossing orbits. So it is prudent to keep tracking these asteroids for decades to come and to study how their orbits might be evolving.”
2001 FO32 fits both these criteria. The CNEOS, based at NASA’s JPL in California, says that it ranges between 0.47 miles and 1.05 miles in diameter.
On March 21, the space rock will be within nearly 1.3 million miles of our planet at 11:03 a.m. ET during the close approach.
NASA has numerous asteroid identifying programs that scan space each night. Once a near-Earth object is discovered, astronomers monitor it to reveal its orbit and determines the chance that it may strike Earth.