Asteroid 2001 FO32 will silently zip past the Earth this month

NASA is currently tracking an asteroid known as 2001 FO32 that will be the largest asteroid predicted to fly past the Earth during 2021. 2001 FO32 will make its closest approach to the planet on March 21 and will allow astronomers to observe an asteroid that formed at the dawn of the solar system. The object is classified as a near-Earth asteroid, and the closest approach distance to our planet will be about 1.25 million miles.

That's a vast distance, about 5.25 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon. NASA is clear that there is no threat of collision with the Earth now or for centuries in the future. NASA says that it knows the orbital path of the asteroid very accurately.

The first glimpse at 2001 FO32 was captured two decades ago, and the asteroid has been tracked ever since. NASA says there is no chance the asteroid will come closer than 1.25 million miles to Earth. While that is a vast distance, it is close in astronomical terms leading to the asteroid being classified as potentially hazardous.

During its approach, the asteroid will fly past Earth at about 77,000 mph, which is faster than most asteroids that come close to the Earth. The reason the asteroid carries so much speed is its highly inclined and elongated orbit (shown in the image above) around the sun. 2001 FO32 has an orbit that is tilted 39 degrees with respect to the Earth's orbital plane.

The orbit takes the asteroid closer to the sun and Mercury and twice as far from the sun as Mars. When the asteroid streaks through the inner solar system, it picks up speed before slowing as it gets further out into deep space and swings back towards the sun. It completes one of its elongated orbits every 810 days.