An asteroid the size of the Golden Gate Bridge is zooming by Earth on the first full day of spring

Largest and fastest asteroid to pass close to our planet this year

Sophie Lewis – CBS News

An asteroid similar in size to the Golden Gate Bridge will whip past Earth this month — the largest and fastest asteroid to pass close to our planet this year. 

But don’t worry, it won’t get too close. 

The asteroid, officially known by NASA as 231937 (2001 FO32), is about 0.5 to 1 mile (up to 1.6 kilometres) in diameter, making it larger than about 97% of asteroids but small compared to large asteroids, according to Space Reference. It has an orbit period of 810 days. 

The asteroid is set to come within 1.25 million miles (2 million kilometres) of Earth at 11:02 a.m. ET on March 21, just one day after the spring equinox. That’s close enough for NASA to classify it as “potentially hazardous” in its database of near-Earth asteroids. 

“This is the closest predicted approach in 2021 for any moderately large asteroid, where ‘moderately large’ means at least several hundred meters in size,” Paul Chodas, the Director of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies, told CBS News on Wednesday. 

However, it poses no risk of impact, and scientists know its path very accurately. 

It will zoom past at almost 77,000 miles (124,000 kilometres) per hour, or 21 miles (34 kilometres) per second — peaking scientists’ interests as one of the fastest space rocks known to fly past Earth, according to EarthSky. Asteroids are designated as “potentially hazardous” when they come within about 4.65 million miles (7.5 million kilometres) of Earth, and are larger than 500 feet (152 metres) in diameter. 

At its brightest, the space rock will still be “far too faint” to be seen with the naked eye, Chodas said. 

“A fascinating aspect of asteroids is that observers using backyard telescopes can spot them as apparently slow-moving ‘stars,'” EarthSky said. “It typically takes at least 5 to 10 minutes for backyard telescope users to detect a space rock’s motion in front of its starfield. But asteroid 2001 FO32 will be sweeping past Earth at such a fast pace that, when its closest, observers using 8-inch or larger telescopes might be able to detect its motion – its drift in front of the stars – in real-time.”

Observers at lower northern latitudes and in the southern hemisphere will have the best chance to spot it at its brightest, Chodas said. Star charts will help locate it.  

Telescopes in New Mexico that are part of the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research program detected the asteroid on March 23, 2001. The MIT Lincoln Laboratory program, funded by the U.S. Air Force and NASA, has been monitoring it since. 

The current biggest known threat is an asteroid called (410777) 2009 FD, which has less than a 0.2% chance of hitting Earth in 2185, according to NASA’s PDCO

banner image: Artistic rendering creates an approximate landscape of 2001 FO32 with Mount Everest in the background. Shape, color and texture of the asteroid are imagined. SPACE REFERENCE