One of the largest asteroids, which was first discovered 20 years ago, will pass Earth this year – and will be closest to Earth on Sunday. This gives astronomers a rare opportunity of a glimpse at the space rock which formed at the dawn of our solar system.
NASA confirmed that, even though it will be a close encounter, the asteroid, named 2001 FO32, presents no threat of colliding with our planet in this encounter, or for centuries to come.
According to the US Space Agency, the nearest that the astroid will come to Earth’s atmosphere is 2 million kilometres away. Even though the distance is roughly five times the distance Earth from the moon, 2001 FO32 is still close enough to be classified as a "potentially hazardous asteroid".
Paul Chodas, the director of the Center for Near Earth Object Studies, said: "We know the orbital path of 2001 FO32 around the sun very accurately".
NASA also added that the asteroid, which is estimated to be about 900 metres in diameter, will pas by at about 124,000 kilometres per hour, which is faster than the speed most asteroids encounter Earth.
Astronomers are hoping to get a better understanding of the asteroid’s size and, by studying the light reflecting off the asteroid surface, astronomers are hoping to get a rough idea of its composition.
NASA stated that; "When sunlight hits an asteroid’s surface, minerals in the rock absorb some wavelengths while reflecting others. By studying the spectrum of the light reflecting from off the surface, astronomers can measure the chemical 'fingerprints' of the minerals on the surface of it".
According to the Paris Observatory, France’s largest astronomy research centre, the asteroid will be closest to Earth at around 16:00 GMT. The asteroids will also be brightest while it moves through southern skies.
Paul Codas added that; "Amateur astronomers in the southern hemisphere and at low Northern latitudes should be able to see this asteroid using moderate-size telescopes with apertures of at least eight inches in the nights leading up to closest approach, but they will probably need star charts to find it".
NASA confirmed that the next time 2001 FO32 will be close to Earth will be in 2052.