Earlier this year, NASA announced that a massive asteroid is set to have a close encounter with Earth, passing within two million kilometers (in space terms, that’s closer than it sounds, earning it the title of Potentially Hazardous Asteroid). Moving at just under 77,000 miles per hour, and estimated to measure around a kilometre in diameter, Asteroid 2001 FO32 will be the largest and fastest of its kind to pass so close to our planet this year.
Last month, a professor of astrophysics at Queen’s University Belfast, Alan Fitzsimmons, told Dazed that if an asteroid that size were to make impact with the planet’s surface, it could result in mass devastation and worldwide climatic effects. Luckily, we don’t have anything to worry about just yet, since astronomers’ observations have shown that it isn’t on track to hit us for at least 200 years.
In fact, Fitzsimmons says that it won’t even be easy to see Asteroid 2001 FO32 without a decent telescope, adding that at its closest “it will be 100,000 times fainter than the faintest stars you can see by eye”.
The Virtual Telescope Project (VTP), however, will allow you to watch the asteroid passing in real time, and you won’t even have to go outside. Beginning at 11pm ET on March 21 – or 4am March 22 in the UK – the VTP will air a free live feed online.
This feed will follow the asteroid “a few hours after the fly-by, when it will be much fainter and barely visible from the Northern hemisphere, at dawn,” VTP explains. “This way, you can join the journey from the comfort of your home.”
The asteroid’s (relatively) near miss won’t just give enthusiasts a chance to witness its flight in action, however. As Fitzsimmons explains, the fly-by will also provide a valuable chance to study large, near-Earth asteroids, and learn more about them at a safe distance. The next opportunity for an up-close look at Asteroid 2001 FO32 is set to come around on March 22, 2052.