How Close the Asteroid 2001 FO32 will Come To Earth?

Well, it will come close enough for NASA to be classifying it as “potentially hazardous” in the “near-Earth asteroids” database. But don’t panic, that really isn’t saying too much, which you will understand why in just a minute.

2001 FO32 will pass as close as 1.25 million miles (2 million kilometers) from Earth, more than 5 times the distance from Earth to the Moon. For an asteroid to be included in this database, it only has to come within 4.65 million miles from earth (now you understand why it isn’t saying much) and has to be bigger than five-hundred feet.

This asteroid will be the fastest and the biggest asteroid to pass by Earth in 2021. Latest data from preliminary NEOWISE results, show that the 2001 FO32 asteroid is roughly 1,300 to 2,230 feet (440 to 680 meters) wide. Its makes a complete revolution around the Sun in 810 days. Although this one is smaller than the last one that was noteworthy to pass by Earth, it’s going to come three times closer to us.

2001 FO32 will be approach the Earth at its closest at 11:02 am on Sunday March 21st Eastern Time. Stay connected and watch for latest news.

The following orbit diagram from Caltech portrays the extended and angled orbit of the 2001 FO32 as it continues to travel on its way around our Sun. Because of its elliptical orbit, when it passes close-by the Earth it will be traveling at a speed of around 77 thousands miles (124 thousands kilometers) per hour or 21 miles (34 kilometers) per second.

JPL Asteroid Orbit
2001 FO32 orbit diagram from JPL Small-Body Database (Credit: JPL SSD)

With its important size and approaching distance, 2001 FO32 has definitely peaked most scientist’s interest. This is also the absolute closest approach that has been predicted in 2021 of an asteroid of this size (meaning at least quite a few hundred meters).

Since 2001, when it was observed for the first time, scientists have studied this asteroid and say that there is absolutely no risk of impacting Earth.

NASA said that “as this asteroid makes its journey in the inner solar system, it gathers speed then slows back down once it is flung back out to space and in the direction of the sun.

The near encounter on March 21st will give astronomers such a unique chance to observe and gather information in order to better understand its size, period, chemical composition, and reflectivity.

The studies will take advantage of NASA’s IRTF (infrared telescope facility) on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. According to an associate professor at Arizona’s Lunar & Planetary Lab in Tucson, Arizona, they want to use the IRTF to be able to see the chemical make-up of 2001 FO32.

The reason for this is to compare its composition with meteorites arrived on Earth to be able to find out what minerals it possesses.

Asteroid size
This chart illustrates how infrared is used to more accurately determine an asteroid’s size. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

NASA’s DPN (deep space network) has radar observation in Spain, California, and Australia that might be able to study 2001 FO32’s dimensions, orbit, surface features, rotation rate, and possible satellites.

Studies dating back as far as twenty years have shown that asteroids with similar size usually have their own small moon. But hardly anything is known about the moons. This asteroid being so close to the Earth will give scientists a chance to learn a lot more about 2001 FO32.

NASA has a photo that was taken from the inside of the IRTF dome at night. The ten-and-a-half-foot telescope that sits on top of Mauna Kea is going to be used to be able to measure the asteroid’s infrared spectrum.

If you have an average “backyard” telescope you should be able to spot the asteroid as it passes Earth. It will look like a star that is moving slow.

However, with a 17.7 magnitude when it’s at its closest point to the earth, gazers with at least an 8 inch telescope should be able to see the asteroid’s actual motion in real-time.

The 2001 FO32 was detected back in 2001 by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) program in Socorro, New Mexico. Since then, the MIT Lincoln Lab has been monitoring it.

After it passes by the Earth on March 21st, it will continue on its way and will not pass Earth again until March 22nd of the year 2052.

At this time, it will pass a little farther from the Earth than it is this time. It will pass roughly around 1,75 million miles (2.8 million kilometers) from us, which is equivalent to seven lunar distances. According to NASA, as of right now, the biggest threat to our planet is an asteroid named (410777) 2009 FD. This asteroid has less than a 0.2% probability of hitting Earth in 2185.

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