For people who are even slightly familiar with the solar system, it is common knowledge that Earth is in the middle of a cosmic shooting gallery with millions upon millions of asteroids constantly hurtling through the solar system at almost unimaginable speeds. Recently, Earth had a close encounter with an asteroid that could probably end life on Earth as we know it.
Fortunately, though, the asteroid, called 1998 QE2, passed Earth with about 3.6 million miles to spare and never was thought to pose a threat to our planet. Now, as the days pass and the data is analyzed, more is coming to light about the giant space rock.
Speaking on the findings, Ellen Howell of the Arecibo said that “asteroid QE2 is dark, red, and primitive — that is, it hasn’t been heated or melted as much as other asteroids . . . QE2 is nothing like any asteroid we’ve visited with a spacecraft, or plan to, or that we have meteorites from. It’s an entirely new beast in the menagerie of asteroids near Earth.”
Additionally, the resulting radar images (Arecibo is a radio telescope) have helped researchers take 1998 QE2’s measurements, determining that the main asteroid is 1.9 miles wide, and it has a 2,500-foot moon that orbits it once every 32 hours. Studying the moon and its orbit should help scientists determine the mass of the main asteroid, which in turn will shed light on the object’s composition.
As for the space rock itself, asteroid 1998 QE2 is estimated to be about 1.7 miles across. The good news is that is will, for the foreseeable future (a long time in astronomy), pose absolutely no threat to Earth. Additionally, as the space rock moved closer to earth, recent imagery revealed that it has a moon.
As for asteroids themselves, most lie in the Main Asteroid Belt, which lies between Mars and Jupiter. In the Early solar system, dust was everywhere. In time, dust particles started colliding and clumping together. As the groups of gravitationally-bound space debris got bigger and bigger, they attracted most of the loose space debris in the solar system to form the planets. However, for reasons unknown, the asteroids between Mars and Jupiter never coalesced into a planet, thus resulting in the Asteroid Belt. Occasionally, asteroids collide, sending both out of the belt and flying on random trajectories through space, which is almost certainly what happened with 1998 QE2.
Needless to say, stay tuned for more information as it develops.
For more info:
Hit the ‘subscribe’ button for automatic email updates when I write something new!
Want to read more of my stuff? Check out my other Examiner columns!
Cleveland Astronomy Examiner
Cleveland Photography Examiner
Want even more? Check out my personal website:
Bodzash Photography & Astronomy