Scientists have drawn attention to a massive asteroid that is 1.3 miles wide and is on course to fly by Earth next week because it looks like it’s wearing a face mask in radar images. The images which are being widely shared on the internet have sparked a discussion on whether the celestial body resembles a face mask, human anatomy or a bullet’s tip.
According to new images from Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, a doppler radar image of asteroid 1998 OR2 looks like it is travelling with a face mask.
#TeamRadar and the @NAICobservatory staff are taking the proper safety measures as we continue observations. This week we have been observing near-Earth asteroid 1998 OR2, which looks like it’s wearing a mask! It’s at least 1.5 km across and is passing 16 lunar distances away! pic.twitter.com/X2mQJCT2Qg
— Arecibo Radar (@AreciboRadar) April 18, 2020
“The small-scale topographic features such as hills and ridges on one end of asteroid 1998 OR2 are fascinating scientifically,” said Anne Virkki, head of Planetary Radar at the observatory in a statement.
“But since we are all thinking about COVID-19 these features make it look like 1998 OR2 remembered to wear a mask,” she added.
The scientists and telescope operators at the observatory have been following health and safety guidelines, limiting the number of scientists working in the premises and wearing masks.
NASA’s Asteroid Watch also reassured people that the “Asteroid 1998 OR2 will safely pass by Earth at a distance of 3.9 million miles/6.2 million km on April 29.”
“Although this asteroid is not projected to impact Earth, it is important to understand the characteristics of these types of objects to improve impact-risk mitigation technologies,” Virkki added.
Asteroid 1998 OR2 will safely pass by Earth at a distance of 3.9 million miles/6.2 million km on April 29. Astronomers studying the #asteroid with radar are also keeping a safe distance—from each other! Just another day for #planetarydefense https://t.co/32BSc0TkPM
— NASA Asteroid Watch (@AsteroidWatch) April 20, 2020
According to the observatory’s website, the team began its observations on April 13 and was to continue to collect data till April 23 after which the asteroid would no longer be visible from the facility.
The asteroid will fly by on April 29, and the observatory said that on the day asteroid 1998 OR2 will “make its closest approach to Earth on April 29 when it will still be 16 times farther than the distance to the Moon.”