The largest asteroid expected to pass Earth this year will be closest to the planet next week before being thrown back into space, NASA said.
While the interplanetary invader will be no closer than 1.25 million miles from Earth, it offers astronomers a scientific opportunity.
The near-Earth asteroid, named 2001 FO32, is closest approaching on March 21 at a distance five and a half times the distance from Earth to the Moon.
There is no risk of a collision with our planet now or for centuries to come, Nasa said.
Paul Chodas, director of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), administered by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said, “We have known the orbital path of FO32 2001 around the Sun very well since it was discovered 20 years ago and has been tracked ever since . “
He added, “There is no chance the asteroid will get closer to Earth than 1.25 million miles.”
However, since the distance is narrow from an astronomical point of view, the rock has been labeled a “potentially dangerous asteroid”.
During its approach, the 2001 FO32 will pass at a speed of 77,000 miles per hour – faster than the speed at which most asteroids hit Earth.
The reason for the asteroid’s unusually fast approach is its sharply inclined and elongated (or eccentric) orbit around the sun – an orbit that is 39 degrees inclined to the Earth’s orbit.
This orbit brings the asteroid closer to the Sun than Mercury and twice as far from the Sun as Mars.
As the asteroid makes its journey through the inner solar system, it picks up speed like a skateboarder rolling down a half pipe and then slows down after being hurled back into space and swung back towards the sun.
An orbit is completed every 810 days.
The asteroid, which is 440 to 680 meters wide according to analysis, will not come this close to Earth again until 2052.