Enormous asteroid to zip by Earth

A giant space rock plans on making an appearance in our stellar neighborhood, but it's not as bad as you might think.

A supreme opportunity for space scientists. NASA/JPL-Caltech

A giant asteroid will pass by Earth on May 31, according to NASA, but hold off before you start browsing survival gear on Amazon.

The 1.7-mile long asteroid, labeled 1998 QE2, will come within 3.6 million miles of Earth, or about 15 times the distance between our planet and the moon. It's a golden opportunity for astronomers, who plan to extensively image the temporary visitor.

"Asteroid 1998 QE2 will be an outstanding radar imaging target at Goldstone and Arecibo and we expect to obtain a series of high-resolution images that could reveal a wealth of surface features," said radar astronomer Lance Benner from NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab.

Despite flying by nearly 4 million miles away, the incredible 230-foot wide antenna (telescope), located at Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California's Mojava Desert, can zoom in so closely to 1998 QE2 that it could detect details 12 feet across.

"Whenever an asteroid approaches this closely, it provides an important scientific opportunity to study it in detail to understand its size, shape, rotation, surface features, and what they can tell us about its origin," said Benner. "We will also use new radar measurements of the asteroid's distance and velocity to improve our calculation of its orbit and compute its motion farther into the future than we could otherwise."

The end of May passing of 1998 QE2 should be its closest visit for the next 200 years.

 

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