Look Up! Asteroid 1998 OR2 to flyby Earth!

The bad news is this is a potentially dangerous large asteroid that can wreck havoc on Earth. But here’s the good news, it’s just going to be a flyby! 1998 OR2 will harmlessly zip by Earth on Wednesday, April 29, 2020, at a distance of 3.9 million miles away, and on that night, it should be visible through backyard telescopes!

The asteroid is about 1.2 miles (2 km) wide, and is in the Near Earth Object category of asteroids. It has an orbit of only 3.8 years, has a perihelion distance from the Sun at 1.0179 AU – as such, it’s closest point to the Sun is just outside Earth’s orbit, but it cross Mars’.

3.9 million miles (6.2 million km) may seem far, but understand that Venus, currently the closest planet to Earth, is actually about 41 million miles (67 million km) away this week, and will get as close as 26 million miles (43 million km) from Earth in June. That should hopefully give you an idea how close 3.9 million miles is.  While it surely won’t be the last time we see a close flyby, the asteroid will have a historically closest approach in 2079, where it will be just over 1.1 million miles away.

Okay… Where Will It Be?

4-29

This week, the asteroid will be visible in front of the constellation Hydra, which is south of the constellation Leo, visible high in the southern sky after dark.

From 4/27 – 5/1, the asteroid will gradually be shifting south by a few degrees each night, so those who live in relatively more northerly latitudes should make a note and figure out how low the asteroid will be above the horizon – the further south you are, the higher the asteroid will be and the longer it will be in the sky.

So… How do I See It?

The asteroid will not be anything other than a point of light, even through telescopes. It will reach a visual magnitude of ~11, which means a 6″- 8″ telescope should be able to collect enough light to spot it.

1998or2_15apr2020_pw17

Unfortunately it will look small and dim through your telescope, and it might be hard to spot in front of other background stars of similar brightness with just your eyes. But if you stay on the same patch of sky long enough, the asteroid will show signs that it moved.

The best way to truly observe the flyby will be taking pictures. Even images about 30 seconds exposure (with enough ISO) a few minutes apart should be enough time for you to notice differences between shots! Just make sure your telescope is pointed at the right spot!

Sites like “The Sky Live” provide excellent up to the minute updates on where the asteroid will be, and if you are in an area with excellent service, then you shouldn’t have too much of a problem using the page to pinpoint exactly where your telescope needs to point. It also includes star charts to help you figure out which of those points is indeed the asteroid.

  1. Get the proper coordinates
  2. Take a test image and use the star charts at your disposal to help you make sure.
  3. If it is the correct spot, then snap away!

If going out and trying to observe it is not your thing, or if you do not have the equipment necessary to see the asteroid, then don’t worry, I’ll have you covered! Stay tuned for images taken by yours truly from the night of the flyby on the morning after!

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