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Asteroid for Our Times? Astronomers Are Amused

One making a flyby this week appears to be wearing a mask, says observatory
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 27, 2020 8:20 AM CDT

(Newser) – The Earth is getting a visitor from afar this week—an asteroid by the name of 1998 OR2. Earthlings have no need to worry, however, because the asteroid will be about 4 million miles away when it makes its closest approach on Wednesday, reports Live Science. Still, that's close enough to earn it the official label of a Potentially Hazardous Object, and the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico is keeping an eye on the asteroid during its flyby, per a news release from the University of Central Florida. One reason the asteroid is making more headlines than it might is a not-so-serious one: Astronomers joke that it looks especially suited to be passing by Earth at this particular time.

“The small-scale topographic features such as hills and ridges on one end of asteroid 1998 OR2 are fascinating scientifically,” says Arecibo astronomer Anne Virkki. “But since we are all thinking about COVID-19 these features make it look like 1998 OR2 remembered to wear a mask.” The observatory tweeted a collage of photos showing its astronomers wearing masks alongside one of the asteroid. The space rock is about 1.2 miles across, notes CNET, and astronomers say the mission itself is a serious one because it's essential to track the orbits of these large asteroids. In this case, 1998 OR2 will be back in 2079, when it will come three times closer to Earth. (Read more asteroid stories.)

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