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Gigantic Asteroid Approaching Earth Appears to be Wearing a Face Mask, Will Pass By Planet Wednesday

The asteroid named 52768 (1998 OR2). (Image credit: Arecibo Observatory/NASA/NSF)

An image of an asteroid that will pass by the Earth on Wednesday, appears to show it's wearing its own mask.

The image captured by Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico looks as though the space rock named 52768 (1998 OR2) will also practice its own social distancing as it will pass almost four million miles away from Earth at 5:59 am EDT on Wednesday, according to USA Today.

NASA reports the asteroid is between 1.1 miles and 2.5 miles (1.8 to 4.1 kilometers) wide. It is classified as "potentially hazardous" by the space agency due to how close it will come to our planet. 

But scientists stress we have nothing to fear from the large rock's fly-by. It will give researchers and astronomy buffs a great view when it passes.

"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 Arecibo 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."

"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," she said.

Since its discovery in 1998, the asteroid has been traveling at the speed of 20,000 mph. 

According to NASA's website, 30 new near-Earth asteroids are discovered every week. So far, the agency has discovered more than 19,000. 

If you don't have a telescope, but would like to see the asteroid, The Virtual Telescope Project in Rome, Italy will host a free, online public viewing of the asteroid on Wednesday. Watch it here.

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