The Arecibo Observatory, a radio telescope in Puerto Rico, is tracking an asteroid which is approaching Earth this week and while it poses no threat, the asteroid somehow appears to know this planet of humans is facing a pandemic.
The University of Central Florida shared a radar image of the “masked” asteroid (in left), the blurry textured image gives plenty of room for active imaginations to play.
“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 asteroid 1998 OR2 is about 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) in length and will make its closest approach to the Earth on April 29.
Asteroid 1998 OR2 was at about 7.5 million miles from the Earth (about 12 million km) when astronomers acquired the images to make the below animation.
In year 2079, asteroid 1998 OR2 will pass Earth about 3.5 times closer than it will this year.
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, says Virkki, head of Planetary Radar at the observatory.
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.