Scientists estimate that the asteroid is between 1,300 and 2,230 feet wide.
The near-Earth asteroid, known as 2001 FO32, will be 1.25 million miles, or more than five times the distance between Earth and the moon, during its closest approach.
It will also move much faster than most asteroids that fly near our planet, with a speed of 77,000 miles per hour.
The asteroid’s closest approach will happen at 12:03 PM ET on Sunday.
According to a statement released by NASA, “There is no danger of colliding with our planet now or for centuries to come.”
“We know the orbital path of 2001 FO32 around the Sun with great accuracy, as it was discovered 20 years ago and has been tracked since then,” Paul Chodas, director of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies, said in a statement. “There is no chance the asteroid will approach Earth more than 1.25 million miles.”
The center operates NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Although 2001 FO32 won’t get close enough to cause any danger, it is still considered a potentially dangerous asteroid due to its proximity. The Near-Earth Object Studies Center tracks and predicts the orbits of such objects, using telescopes and radar to determine if they have a chance to impact the Earth.
This asteroid moves faster than others due to its tilted and elongated orbit around the sun. This orbit takes the asteroid closer to the sun than Mercury, the closest planet to the star in our solar system, and reaches twice the distance from Mars, which is the fourth planet from the sun.
As 2001 FO32 approaches the inner solar system, it increases in speed. Once it returns to deep space, it will slow down. An asteroid takes 810 days to complete one orbit, but its closest passage to Earth will not happen again until 2052.
If you have a telescope, you may be able to see the asteroid pass by, depending on where you live.
“The asteroid will be brighter as it moves across the southern sky,” Chodas said. “Amateur astronomers in the Southern Hemisphere and at low northern latitudes should be able to see this asteroid using medium-sized telescopes with apertures of at least 8 inches in the nights before the closest approach, but they may need star charts to find it.”
The close scroll is a great opportunity for scientists to notice these remnants of the formation of the solar system. In flight, they can improve the details of asteroid’s size and composition. The agency’s infrared telescope facility at Mauna Kea volcano in Hawaii is one of the telescopes that will be used to observe the asteroid.
“We’re trying to do geology with a telescope,” said Vishnu Reddy, associate professor at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona in Tucson, in a statement. “We’ll use (the telescope) to get the infrared spectrum to see its chemical composition. Once we know this, we can make comparisons with meteorites on Earth to see what the 2001 FO32 minerals contain.”
Learning the formation of the asteroid should reveal more about its history.
Three terrestrial radio plates in California, Australia and Spain, which make up the deep space network, can be used to mainly bounce radio signals off the asteroid. These could provide radar observations, such as whether the asteroid has its own moon.
“Observations dating back 20 years reveal that about 15% of near-Earth asteroids comparable to the size of 2001 FO32 have a small moon,” said Lance Penner, a lead scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a statement. “Currently, not much is known about this object, so a very close encounter provides a great opportunity to learn a lot about this asteroid.”