Asteroid visiting Earth's neighborhood brings its own face mask

April 23, 2020

The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico is following an asteroid approaching Earth this week and while it poses no threat, it appears to know our planet is facing a pandemic.

"The small-scale topographic features such as hills and ridges on one end of asteroid 1998 OR2 are fascinating scientifically," says 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 National Science Foundation facility, which is managed by the University of Central Florida, has a team of experts who monitors near-Earth asteroids. This asteroid is in a special class of near-Earth asteroids called Potentially Hazardous Objects (PHOs).

PHOs are bigger than 140 meters (about 500 feet) and come within 5 million miles of Earth's orbit. No known PHO poses an immediate danger to the Earth, but observations like those conducted at the Arecibo Observatory are used to determine their future trajectories.

"The radar measurements allow us to know more precisely where the asteroid will be in the future, including its future close approaches to Earth," says Flaviane Venditti, a research scientist at the observatory. "In 2079, asteroid 1998 OR2 will pass Earth about 3.5 times closer than it will this year, so it is important to know its orbit precisely."

"Although this asteroid is not projected to impact Earth, it is important to understand the characteristics of these types of objects to improve impact-risk mitigation technologies," Virkki says.

The Arecibo data confirmed that 1998 OR2 is approximately 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) across in size and rotates once every 4.1 hours, as was suggested by observations made with optical telescopes. Should an asteroid be discovered that posed an impact threat to Earth, knowing such characteristics would be important for planning a response.

The team began observations on April 13 and will continue to collect data through April 23 when the asteroid will no longer be visible from the facility. The asteroid will make its closest approach to Earth on April 29 when it will still be 16 times farther than the distance to the Moon.

Although the pandemic has impacted operations around the world, Arecibo continues its important contributions to science and to planetary defense. Radio astronomy observations can largely be made remotely, with only limited on-site observing. However, planetary radar operations cannot be run fully remotely, requiring at least one radar operator and one scientist on site. The team of scientists and telescope operators on site have been adhering to health and safety guidelines, limiting the number of observing scientists at the telescope and wearing masks during the observations.

UCF manages the NSF facility under a cooperative agreement with Universidad Ana G. Méndez and Yang Enterprises, Inc. The Arecibo Planetary Radar Program is fully supported by NASA's Near-Earth Object Observations Program in NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office through grant no. 80NSSC19K0523 awarded to UCF. Arecibo has played a role in analyzing NEOs since the mid-90s, observing 60-120 objects per year. Congress made NEOs a priority when it directed NASA in 2005 to discover and characterize at least 90 percent of near-Earth objects larger than 140 meters by 2020.
-end-


University of Central Florida

Related Asteroid Articles from Brightsurf:

Asteroid's scars tell stories of its past
Asteroid Bennu, which was just sampled by NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission, only recently migrated into Earth's neighborhood, according to a detailed analysis of impact marks on boulders on its surface.

Asteroid Ryugu shaken by Hayabusa2's impactor
Professor ARAKAWA Masahiko (Graduate School of Science, Kobe University, Japan) and Hayabusa2 mission members discovered more than 200 boulders, which either newly appeared or moved as a result of the artificial impact crater created by the Japanese spacecraft's Small Carry-on Impactor.

Scientists peer inside an asteroid
New findings from NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission suggest that the interior of the asteroid Bennu could be weaker and less dense than its outer layers--like a crème-filled chocolate egg flying though space.

Designing better asteroid explorers
Recent NASA missions to asteroids have used robotic explorers to gather data about the early evolution of our Solar System, planet formation, and how life may have originated on Earth.

ATLAS telescope discovers first-of-its-kind asteroid
University of Hawai'i telescope discovers extraordinary asteroid with comet-like features that has researchers puzzled.

An iron-clad asteroid
Mineralogists from Jena and Japan discover a previously unknown phenomenon in soil samples from the asteroid 'Itokawa': the surface of the celestial body is covered with tiny hair-shaped iron crystals.

Asteroid impact enriches certain elements in seawater
University of Tsukuba researchers found two processes immediately after the end-Cretaceous asteroid impact that likely supplied chalcophile elements to the ocean, i.e., impact heating and acid rain.

Turbulent times revealed on Asteroid 4 Vesta
Planetary scientists at Curtin University have shed some light on the tumultuous early days of the largely preserved protoplanet Asteroid 4 Vesta, the second largest asteroid in our solar system.

In death of dinosaurs, it was all about the asteroid -- not volcanoes
Volcanic activity did not play a direct role in the mass extinction event that killed the dinosaurs, according to an international, Yale-led team of researchers.

Active asteroid unveils fireball identity
At around 1 a.m. local standard time on April 29, 2017, a fireball flew over Kyoto, Japan.

Read More: Asteroid News and Asteroid Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.