This afternoon at 4:59 p.m. ET, a huge asteroid (about 1.6 miles across) will bypass Earth only 15 times as far away as our moon, or 3.6 million miles. Earth scientists discovered Asteroid 1998 QE2 in 1998 and have plotted its course, so we know there is zero chance of impact.
A person’s naked eye will not be able to perceive it, but the asteroid promises a good show for home and professional astronomers. Sky spy David Dickinson, an Earth science teacher, writer, and backyard astronomer from Tampa Bay, Florida, gives details on where and how to find 1998 QE2 on the Universe Today website.
Using radar telescopes to produce high-quality and detailed images, NASA scientists hope the fly-by will solve a few celestial mysteries. (The U.S. launched a program called the Near-Earth Object Human Space Flight Accessible Targets Study (NHATS) three years ago to identify and track known near-Earth objects.)
As it approached our planet late Wednesday, using the Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California, NASA personnel discovered that the asteroid possesses a moon of its own. (See small white dot on asteroid photo.) They offer a preliminary estimate that the satellite is about 2,000 feet in diameter, less than half a mile. (By comparison, the meteor that landed near Chelyabinsk, Russia, in March was only about a yard wide.)
Some reports have erroneously indicated that the main asteroid was named after the Cunard Line’s massive ocean liner, Queen Elizabeth II, sister ship of the Queen Mary, which now lies at permanent anchor in Long Beach, California. In fact, according to Cosmiclog at NBC News, that’s not where the rock’s name came from at all.
“Instead, it follows the naming system used by the IAU for asteroids. The object was discovered on Aug. 19, 1998, by MIT’s Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research program in New Mexico…. The ‘1998’ in the provisional name denotes the year of discovery. The ‘Q’ means it was discovered during the latter half of August. The ‘E2’ is a code given to the 55th object discovered during the half-month.”
Part of the confusion may result from the fact that 1998 QE2 has been described in the press as being “as big as nine ocean liners.”
- FOLLOW Asteroid 1998 QE2 on NASA’s Asteroid Watch website and The Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Facebook page. Twitter hashtags: #asteroidQE2 and #1998QE2.
Award-winning science writer Sandy Dechert recently covered the meteor that landed in a Siberian lake near Chelyabinsk, Russia. She has also reported climate change and the extreme weather disasters over the past few years, including massive summer wildfires and Superstorm Sandy.
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