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A massive asteroid passing Earth looks like it's wearing a face mask

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An asteroid hurtling past Earthbrings a startling reminder of the coronavirus pandemic.

The space rock, known as 1998 OR2, was nearly 4 million miles away from Earth at 5:59 a.m. ET Wednesday  – classifying it as a "potentially hazardous" asteroid despite the impossibility of it posing a threat to Earth anytime soon.

An image by Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico brings its own surprise. As the asteroid approached our planet, it looked as if it's wearing its own mask – and may very well be conducting its own social distancing practices.

“The small-scale topographic features such as hills and ridges on one end of asteroid 1998 OR2 are fascinating scientifically,” Anne Virkki, head of planetary radar at Arecibo Observatory, said 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.”

It's classified as a "potentially hazardous" asteroid because it is more than 500 feet in diameter and closer than 4,650,000 miles to Earth. 

“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.

The asteroid, which is about 1 mile in diameter, has been traveling at nearly 20,000 mph since its discovery in 1998. Though it may not come anywhere near Earth in the coming weeks, Flaviane Venditti, a researcher at the observatory, said in a statement that in 2079, it "will pass Earth about 3.5 times closer than it will this year."

Follow Joshua Bote on Twitter: @joshua_bote