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. Last Friday, 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. For more good news, the cameras were clicking as the asteroid paid us a visit as evidenced by a photo-laced story on space.com and another on EarthSky.
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.
Now, as the asteroid will be coming so close to Earth: the big question many astronomers are asking themselves is this: will I be able to see it?
Good news: as the asteroid recedes, it will be turning its brighter side toward Earth, which means that it will actually peak in brightness tonight and tomorrow, 4 days after close pass. Go here for orbital data. Good luck!
As the last part of the puzzle, if you plan to do any stargazing, be sure to keep an eye on the Cleveland weather forecast and, for hour-by-hour cloud predictions, the Cleveland Clear Sky Clock. The bad news: at least in the Cleveland area, things are always iffy when it comes to clear skies this time of year. Live somewhere else? Find a clock and see if it will be clear near you.
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