The colossal asteroid is about half the size of Mount Everest and will close-in on Earth next month. Astrophysicist Gianluca Masi of the Virtual Telescope Project in Italy spotted the space rock approximately 22.4 million miles (36 million km) from Earth.
But the asteroid will come drastically closer to our homeworld on April 29 when NASA said it will make an Earth close approach.
The asteroid’s size and orbit have earned it the designation of “potentially hazardous”.
Officially known as Asteroid 52768 (1998 OR2), the space rock is being monitored by multiple space agencies and astronomers.
Potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs) all measure 460ft (140m) across and upwards and can come perilously close to Earth.
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Dr Masi pictured the asteroid on Friday, March 6, using a remote robotic telescope in Ceccano, Italy.
The 30-second exposure reveals a tiny speck of light among a starlit field.
The astronomer said: “The sky was very bad, with many clouds up there and almost Full Moon, making the effort to captures it quite hard. But we were lucky.
“The asteroid is in the centre of the image, marked by an arrow.”
Despite making a close approach on April 29, astronomers do not expect Asteroid OR2 to wipe out humanity.
But the asteroid’s flyby is a stark reminder of the threats and dangers lurking in the depths of space.
While it will not hit us, it is so big that we will see it even with small instruments
Dr Gianluca Masi, Virtual Telescope Project
According to a 2018 White House report penned by the National Science and Technology Council, the asteroid is large enough to cause destruction on a global scale.
Space agency NASA reckons anything larger than 0.6 miles (one kilometre) is big enough to be a global threat.
The 2018 report reads: “Objects closer to and larger than one kilometre can cause on a global scale.
“They can trigger earthquakes, tsunamis and other secondary effects that extend far beyond the immediate impact area.
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“An asteroid as large as 10 kilometres across is thought to have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs when it struck the Yucatan peninsula some 65 million years ago.”
Asteroid OR2 is estimated to measure somewhere between 1.1 miles and 2.54 miles (1.5km and 4.1km) in diameter.
On April 29, the space rock will approach the planet from a safe distance of approximately 0.04205 astronomical units.
One astronomical unit equals about 93 million miles (149.6 million km), which is the distance from our planet to the Sun.
The good news is astronomers do not expect the rock to hit us next month or at any time in the foreseeable future.
Planetary scientist Dr James O’Donoghue said on Twitter: “Hey Earth, about that asteroid in the news, 52768 (1998 OR2), it will pass by Earth at a distance over SIXTEEN times farther than our Moon!
“I put that *distance* to scale in the diagram below and made Earth/Moon larger so you can see them.”
Dr Masi also said: “While it will not hit us, it is so big that we will see it even with small instruments, enjoying its motion across the sky.”
The Virtual Telescope will track the asteroid live online as it races past Earth on April 28.
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