Global Geological And Climatic Events

2001 FO32: the largest asteroid passing by Earth


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: 2001 FO32

Mains level: Study of asteroids and meteors

On March 21, the largest asteroid predicted to pass by Earth in 2021 will be at its closest. It is called 2001 FO32.

Try this PYQ:

Q.Which of the following is/are cited by the scientists as evidence/evidence for the continued expansion of the universe?

  1. Detection of microwaves in space
  2. Observation of redshirt phenomenon in space
  3. Movement of asteroids in space
  4. Occurrence of supernova explosions in space


(a) 1 and 2 only

(b) 2 only

(c) 1, 3 and 4

(d) None of the above can be cited as evidence.

2001 FO32

  • There is no threat of a collision with our planet now or for centuries to come.
  • Scientists know its orbital path around the Sun very accurately since it was discovered 20 years ago and has been tracked ever since.
  • It won’t come closer than 2 million km to Earth, but it will present a valuable scientific opportunity for astronomers who can get a good look at a rocky relic that formed at the dawn of our Solar System.

Proximity to Earth

  • For comparison, when it is at its closest, the distance of 2 million km is equal to 5¼ times the distance from Earth to the Moon.
  • Still, that distance is close in astronomical terms, which is why 2001 FO32 has been designated a “potentially hazardous asteroid”.
  • The reason for the asteroid’s unusually speedy close approach is its highly eccentric orbit around the Sun, an orbit that is tilted 39° to Earth’s orbital plane.
  • This orbit takes the asteroid closer to the Sun than Mercury, and twice as far from the Sun as Mars.
  • Later, the asteroid slows after being flung back out into deep space and swinging back toward the Sun. It completes one orbit every 810 days (about 2¼ years).

Studying the visitor

  • This asteroid will provide an opportunity for astronomers to get a more precise understanding of the asteroid’s size and albedo (i.e. how bright, or reflective, its surface is), and a rough idea of its composition.
  • When sunlight hits an asteroid’s surface, minerals in the rock absorb some wavelengths while reflecting others.
  • By studying the spectrum of light reflecting off the surface, astronomers can measure the chemical “fingerprints” of the minerals on the surface of the asteroid.

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