Image Shows the Biggest Asteroid to Pass by Earth This Year as It Approaches Our Planet

An enormous asteroid, potentially measuring more than two-and-a-half miles in diameter, is set to sail safely past the Earth toward the end of next month—and astronomers have captured an image of it as it approaches our planet.

The giant space rock—known as (52768) 1998 OR2—is the biggest asteroid to make a close approach to Earth in 2020, according to NASA's Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS.)

Data from the CNEOS indicates that the object could measure anywhere between 1.1 and just over 2.6 miles in diameter, based on its observed magnitude.

The asteroid will make its close approach on April 29 at 9:56 a.m. Universal Time (5:56 a.m. ET) passing within around four million miles of our planet—or about 16 times the Earth-Moon distance—while traveling at a speed of nearly 20,000 miles per hour.

The orbit of this asteroid is well known and there is no chance of a collision for at least the next two centuries or so, according to projections of its trajectory. Nevertheless, it is classed as "Potentially Hazardous" because it will come within 0.05 astronomical units (around 4.6 million miles) of Earth, and is estimated to measure more than 460 feet in diameter, based on its absolute magnitude.

According to data from the CNEOS, the asteroid will make its closest approach of the century in 2079, when it will come within around a million miles of Earth. This is the largest near-Earth object to pass within five times the Earth-moon distance in the next two hundred years, EarthSky reported.

A near-Earth object (NEO) is any asteroid or comet whose path around the sun takes it within 121 million miles of the star and 30 million miles of our own planet's orbit.

potentially hazardous asteroid (52768) 1998 OR2
An image of Potentially Hazardous asteroid (52768) 1998 OR2 taken on March 6, 2020. Virtual Telescope Project

As it approaches the Earth, astronomer Gianluca Masi from the Virtual Telescope Project managed to snap a photo of (52768) 1998 OR2 using a robotic telescope known as "Elena"—based in Ceccano, central Italy—on March 6.

Despite relatively cloudy weather, Masi was able to take an image of the sky—a single, 30-second-long exposure—which shows the huge asteroid in the center as a tiny dot of white light. The space rock was located around 22 million miles from Earth when the photo was captured.

During the asteroid's fly-by of our planet, professional astronomers at facilities such as the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico will observe the asteroid in order to learn more about it. However, the object is so big that it will be visible with small telescopes.

If you don't have any astronomy equipment, the Virtual Telescope Project will be tracking the object during its close approach and providing a live stream which can be viewed here.