2001 FO32

  • On 21 March 2021, the largest asteroid predicted to pass by Earth will be at its closest.
  • It won’t come closer than 2 million km to Earth, but it will present a valuable scientific opportunity for astronomers who can get a good look at a rocky relic that formed at the dawn of our Solar System.
  • It is called 2001 FO32. There is no threat of a collision with our planet now or for centuries to come.

Speed & distance

  • For comparison, when it is at its closest, the distance of 2 million km is equal to 5¼ times the distance from Earth to the Moon.
  • Still, that distance is close in astronomical terms, which is why 2001 FO32 has been designated a “potentially hazardous asteroid”.
  • During this approach, 2001 FO32 will pass by at about 124,000 kph – faster than the speed at which most asteroids encounter Earth.
  • The reason for the asteroid’s unusually speedy close approach is its highly eccentric orbit around the Sun, an orbit that is tilted 39° to Earth’s orbital plane.
  • This orbit takes the asteroid closer to the Sun than Mercury, and twice as far from the Sun as Mars.
  • As 2001 FO32 makes its inner solar system journey, the asteroid picks up speed.
  • Later, the asteroid slows after being flung back out into deep space and swinging back toward the Sun.
  • It completes one orbit every 810 days (about 2¼ years).
  • After its brief visit, 2001 FO32 will continue its lonely voyage, not coming this close to Earth again until 2052, when it will pass by at about seven lunar distances, or 2.8 million km.
  • Even if it is at the smaller end of the scale, 2001 FO32 will still be the largest asteroid to pass this close to our planet in 2021.
  • The last notably large asteroid close approach was that of 1998 OR2 on April 29, 2020. While 2001 FO32 is somewhat smaller than 1998 OR2, it will be three times nearer to Earth.

Studying the visitor

  • The March 21 encounter will provide an opportunity for astronomers to get a more precise understanding of the asteroid’s size and albedo (i.e. how bright, or reflective, its surface is), and a rough idea of its composition.
  • When sunlight hits an asteroid’s surface, minerals in the rock absorb some wavelengths while reflecting others.
  • By studying the spectrum of light reflecting off the surface, astronomers can measure the chemical “fingerprints” of the minerals on the surface of the asteroid.
  • Over 95% of near-Earth asteroids the size of 2001 FO32 or larger have been discovered, tracked, and catalogued.
  • None of the large asteroids in the catalogue has any chance of impacting Earth over the next century, and it is extremely unlikely that any of the remaining undiscovered asteroids of this size could impact Earth, either. Still, efforts continue to discover all asteroids that could pose an impact hazard.

ASTEROIDS, COMETS, METEORITES

Asteroids are rocky remains left over from the formation of solar system. Comets are comparatively small, flimsy, erratically shaped bodies.

Asteroids

  • Asteroids are rocky remains left over from the formation of solar system. Most asteroids orbit the sun in a girdle between Mars & Jupiter. Scientists believe there are possibly millions of asteroids, arraying extensively in size from hundreds of kilometers across to less than 1 kilometer broad.
  • Sporadically, asteroids’ orbital paths are inclined by the gravitational haul of planets, which cause their paths to change. Scientists consider wandering asteroids or fragments from past collisions have knocked into Earth in the past, playing a key role in the development of our planet.

Comets

  • Comets are comparatively small, flimsy, erratically shaped bodies. They are left over from solar system formation procedure. Comets are icy dirtballs that form in outer solar system. The icy surface is entrenched with grit, dust & particles from space.
  • Several comets have elliptical orbits that cut athwart the orbits of planets, taking them very close to the sun & then swinging them far away. The most far-off comets may take more than 30 million years to complete 1 orbit.
  • Comets are very cold when far from the sun. As they come near the sun, their surfaces begin to tepid and fickle materials vaporize. Scientists think that blow from comets played a part in the evolution of Earth years ago.

Meteors and Meteorites

  • While traveling through space, asteroids sometimes smash with each other & break up into minor remains. Comets shack dust as they wander the solar system. These ‘break ups’ result in frequent small particles & fragments, known as meteoroids, which orbit the sun.
  • Most meteoroids are rocky and small. When one draws near Earth, it burns up as it goes through the atmosphere of Earth. Thus a meteor is formed.
  • Fireballs are bigger meteoroids, approximately ranging in dimension anywhere from a basketball to a Volkswagen. They also make very imposing sky exhibits as they smash into fragments & burn up in their way through Earth’s atmosphere. Some meteoroids endure passage through the atmosphere of Earth & hit the ground. These are known as meteorites.

SOURCE: DTE,THE HINDU

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