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This asteroid looks like it's wearing a face mask

Even space rocks appear to be observing proper coronavirus safety protocols now.

Anne Virkki, head of planetary radar at Arecibo Observatory, poses with a face mask and a radar image of asteroid 1998 OR2.
Arecibo Observatory

We're seeing signs of the coronavirus pandemic everywhere we look. Even astronomers can't help but spot face masks in space now. The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico is tracking an asteroid called 1998 OR2 and captured a radar view of the traveler that makes it look like it's sporting a face mask. 

The asteroid will come near Earth soon, but will pass at a plenty safe distance. The University of Central Florida shared a radar image of the "masked" asteroid on Thursday. 

"Masked" asteroid 1998 OR2, seen in this Arecibo Observatory radar image, will pass by Earth at a safe social distance.

Arecibo Observatory

"The small-scale topographic features such as hills and ridges on one end of asteroid 1998 OR2 are fascinating scientifically," research scientist Anne Virkki said. "But since we are all thinking about COVID-19 these features make it look like 1998 OR2 remembered to wear a mask."  

We've seen some fun radar views of asteroids in the past, including one that looked like a hippo and another that resembled tumbling dice. The fuzzy imagery gives plenty of room for active imaginations to play.

Radar observations help scientists learn more about asteroids and their orbital paths. This won't be the asteroid's last visit to our neighborhood. "In 2079, asteroid 1998 OR2 will pass Earth about 3.5 times closer than it will this year, so it is important to know its orbit precisely," research scientist Flaviane Venditti said.

Asteroid 1998 OR2 is about 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) across and will make its closest approach on April 29. Future images may give us a better look at the rock and its mask-like facade.