Astronomers snap 'potentially hazardous' 2.5-MILE-long asteroid '1998 OR2' about to skim past Earth at 20,000mph

AN ENORMOUS asteroid that would cause mass destruction if it were to hit Earth has been photographed days before it skims past our planet.

The space rock has been classed as "potentially hazardous" by Nasa, which is keeping a close eye on the 2.5-mile-long giant ahead of its close approach next week.

Fortunately, the asteroid 1998 OR2 is expected to zip safely past us at a distance of 4million miles – or more than 16 times the distance from Earth to the Moon.

That may sound like a long way, but it's close enough that Nasa classes the rock as a "Near Earth Object" (NEO).

Astronomers at the Virtual Telescope Project in Rome and the Arecibo Observatory in Chile have taken a series of snaps of 1998 OR2 in the lead up to its April 29 flyby.

One image appears to show debris and dust coming off the asteroid as it sails through the cosmos, making it look like it's wearing a protective face mask.

"This week we have been observing near-Earth asteroid 1998 OR2, which looks like it's wearing a mask," the official Arecibo Twitter account wrote.

"It's at least 1.5 km across and is passing 16 lunar distances away!"

The space rock is expected to make its close approach just before 10am BST on April 29, according to Nasa's NEO tracker.

It's travelling at close to 20,000 miles per hour and at up to 2.5 miles long is larger than Japan's enormous Mount Fuji.

That makes it large enough to spot with a telescope on a clear night. It is currently only visible through professional telescopes.

The Virtual Telescope Project will be screening a livestream of the asteroid on April 28, starting at 2pm ET (18:00 GMT).

Apparently, the asteroid will look like a "slow-moving star" as it zips past our planet.

Nasa considers anything passing within 120million miles of Earth a NEO.

What's the difference between an asteroid, meteor and comet?

Here's what you need to know, according to Nasa…

  • Asteroid: An asteroid is a small rocky body that orbits the Sun. Most are found in the asteroid belt (between Mars and Jupiter) but they can be found anywhere (including in a path that can impact Earth)
  • Meteoroid: When two asteroids hit each other, the small chunks that break off are called meteoroids
  • Meteor: If a meteoroid enters the Earth's atmosphere, it begins to vapourise and then becomes a meteor. On Earth, it'll look like a streak of light in the sky, because the rock is burning up
  • Meteorite: If a meteoroid doesn't vapourise completely and survives the trip through Earth's atmosphere, it can land on the Earth. At that point, it becomes a meteorite
  • Comet: Like asteroids, a comet orbits the Sun. However rather than being made mostly of rock, a comet contains lots of ice and gas, which can result in amazing tails forming behind them (thanks to the ice and dust vapourising)

 

Astronomers are currently tracking nearly 2,000 asteroids, comets and other objects that threaten our pale blue dot, and new ones are found every day.

Earth hasn't seen an asteroid of apocalyptic scale since the space rock that wiped out the dinosaurs 66million years ago.

However, smaller objects capable of flattening an entire city crash into Earth every so often.

One a few hundred metres across devastated 800 square miles of forest near Tunguska in Siberia on June 30, 1908.

Luckily, Nasa doesn't believe any of the NEOs it keeps an eye on are on a collision course with our planet.

That could change in the coming months or years, however, as the space agency constantly revises objects' predicted trajectories.

"Nasa knows of no asteroid or comet currently on a collision course with Earth, so the probability of a major collision is quite small," Nasa says.

"In fact, as best as we can tell, no large object is likely to strike the Earth any time in the next several hundred years."

Even if they were to hit our planet, the vast majority of asteroids would not wipe out life as we know it.

"Global catastrophes" are only triggered when objects larger than 900 metres smash into Earth, according to Nasa.

In other space news, Nasa recently snapped a stunning image of a 2,000-foot dust whirlwind raging across Mars.

Mars may have taken as long as 20million years to form, scientists now claim.

And, Nasa has revealed the design of a moon lander that could be taking astronauts back to the lunar surface by 2024.

What are your thoughts on this huge asteroid? Let us know in the comments…

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