An asteroid more than a mile wide makes a close — but safe — approach to Earth

A rocky object called the 1998 OR2 passed by no closer than about 4 million miles on Wednesday, according to NASA.

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By Minyvonne Burke

A one-and-a-half-mile-wide asteroid is making a close — but safe — approach to Earth on Wednesday, and amateur astronomers will be able to watch via a livestream from the comfort of their homes.

The rocky object, called the 1998 OR2, passed by no closer than about 4 million miles, according to NASA.

It made its closest approach to Earth just before 6 am ET. The Virtual Telescope Project, operated by Italian astronomer Gianluca Masi, will have a livestream on its website beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET as it continues to fly past Earth.

While many astronomers consider 1998 OR2 to be making a close approach to the planet, it is still very far away.

The Arecibo Observatory captured this radar image of the big asteroid 1998 OR2 on April 18, 2020.Arecibo Observatory/NASA/NSF

So far, in fact, that it cannot be seen with the naked eye or a small telescope, the European Space Agency tweeted. The asteroid is "just at the limit of what is visible with medium-sized telescopes," the agency wrote.

According to NASA, the size of 1998 OR2, which is categorized as "potentially hazardous," makes it bright enough to be seen with some amateur astronomy equipment.

Paul Chodas, the manager of NASA's Center for Near Earth Object Studies program, said people hoping to catch a glimpse of the asteroid can do so using moderate-sized telescopes and under dark skies.

To track it, he suggested using the Sky & Telescope's star chart. Chodas said the asteroid will appear as a star "moving very slowly through the fixed stars."

NASA began tracking the object in July 1998 after it was discovered by the organization's Near-Earth Asteroid Tracking program.

"As a result, we understand its orbital trajectory very precisely, and we can say with confidence that this asteroid poses no possibility of impact for at least the next 200 years," NASA wrote in a press release. "Its next close approach to Earth will occur in 2079, when it will pass by closer — only about four times the lunar distance."

Large asteroids making a close approach are rare, most recently in September 2017 when the 3-mile-wide Florence whizzed past Earth.