Home Science Space Sooty asteroid to fly close to Earth on May 31, 2013
The orientation of the inner solar system as the asteroid flys by on Friday, May 31, 2013. The orientation of the inner solar system as the asteroid flys by on Friday, May 31, 2013. NASA/JPL-Caltech

According to astronomers tracking near-Earth objects (NEOs), a very large asteroid about 2 miles wide will fly by the Earth on Friday, May 31, 2013, in the United States, or Saturday, June 1, in Australia.

Asteroid 1998 QE2, also called (285263) 1998 QE2, is approximately 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) wide and 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers) long. In addition, it is composed of rock and ice, with a sooty, tar-like substance on its exterior, probably due to its close encounters with the Sun.

The asteroid was discovered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) project on August 19, 1998, which is located near Socorro, New Mexico.

Its closest approach to Earth is at 1:59 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time (PDT) on Friday, and 6:59 a.m. Saturday June 1, 2013, in Australia/Sydney.

At that point, it will be approximately 3.6 million miles (5.8 million kilometers) from Earth. That distance is equivalent between distance of the Earth and the Moon (239,000 miles [385,000 kilometers] times 15).

One report on this story states that its length is equivalent to “nine cruise ships laid end to end”. A asteroid that size, if it hit Earth, would probably kill most or all of life on the planet.

Luckily for us, it will miss Earth on Friday. So, good news Earthlings!!

According to the TG Daily article Asteroid 1998 QE2 to sail past Earth 9x larger than cruise ship, the asteroid will be valuable to astronomers who study such NEOs. The article quotes Lance Benner, an American radar astronomer and the principal investigator for the Goldstone radar observations from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Benner states, "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. 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."

"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."

For more on this story, please read the May 24, 2013 Phys.org article “Dark, massive asteroid to fly by Earth on May 31”.


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William Atkins

William Atkins completed educational degrees in science (bachelor’s in physics and mathematics) from Illinois State University (Normal, United States) and business (master’s in entrepreneurship and bachelor’s in industrial relations) from Western Illinois University