On May 31, an asteroid known as 1998 QE2 and measured to be bigger than nine cruise ships, will fly by Earth. And, it has its very own moon.
While the asteroid's flight path will not pose a threat to human existence (the asteroid will be about 3.6 million miles away from our planet when it zooms past), the 1998 QE2 will be of great interest to space observers and can be observed using at least a 230-foot radar telescope. According to NASA, the 1998 QE2 will be closest to earth at 4:59PM EDT on Friday.
"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 Dr. Lance Benner, chief investigator of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA.
"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 that we could otherwise," Benner added.
The space rock's distance from the Earth when it flies past our planet, will be about 15 times the distance of the moon from the Earth. It was discovered back in 1998 and is measured to be around 1.7 miles or nine times the length of the famous cruise ship Queen Elizabeth 2. However, scientist explained that the QE2 was named, not after the popular transatlantic ship. It was named by the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Mass. and follows an alphanumeric system that explains when it was discovered. 1998 QE2 has its very own moon that's roughly the size of two ocean liners.
The astronomers in the U.S. will be able to see the small features of the asteroid using the NASA telescope in Goldstone, California. The observation of the 230-foot-wide telescope will also be complemented by the observations of the telescope at the Arecibo Observatory located in Puerto Rico.
NASA puts a high priority on observing asteroids due to their possibility of slamming to earth and wiping existing life forms. The experts want to learn as much about these space rocks that one day may threaten human existence.
The agency has also launched a mission that will try to identify, catch, and relocate any asteroid that can be explored by humans.