ASTRONOMERS have announced that 2020 was a record year for the discovery of near-Earth objects – with an asteroid approaching this weekend.
Since 1998, some 25,000 near-Earth objects have been catalogued; last year seeing a bumper find of 2,958 objects.
A large number of the total – 1,548 – were discovered by the Catalina Sky Survey, which uses three telescopes in Arizona to hunt for threatening space rocks.
These included: a rare ‘mini-moon’ named 2020 CD3m and a rock measuring three metres which temporarily became another orbiting moon around the Earth.
Another large haul came courtesy of the Pan-STARRS survey telescopes in Hawaii which discovered 1,152 near-Earth objects.
Finds made from Hawaii included an object named 2020 SO – it turned out this was not an asteroid, but a leftover rocket booster from a NASA mission to the Moon in 1966.
At least 107 of the bodies discovered in 2020 passed Earth at a distance less than that of the Moon. Last year’s closest shave was by an object named 2020 VT4 which passed less than 248 miles from Earth and was only spotted 15 hours after it had whizzed by.
This Sunday, March 21, asteroid 2001 FO32, measuring an estimated 440 to 680 metres wide, will make a close approach to Earth at five-and-a-quarter times the distance from the Earth to the Moon.
It’s highly inclined and eccentric orbit will mean the asteroid will fly past at 77,000 mph – faster than the speed at which most asteroids encounter Earth.
Asteroid 2001 FO32 will pass Earth again in 2052.
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