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Asteroid bigger than Balboa Park will just miss Earth… by 3.6 million miles

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asteroid3Streaking through the heavens toward us, Asteroid 1998 QE2 is the size of nine QE2’s (the cruise ship). It was not, however, named for the Queen Elizabeth II. The designation was randomly assigned from a list. The respectably-sized object (imagine Balboa Park, rolled around onto a big ball) will coast peacefully by the Earth on May 31, 2013. With plenty of room to spare.

The asteroid, larger than most that approach this close to the Earth, will fly as near as 3.6 million miles. The moon is one-fifteenth as close, averaging 230,800 miles away. Despite the asteroid’s size of 1.7 miles across, larger than Gaspra in the image above, any viewer would need at least a 230-foot radar telescope to see it live.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena considers it an outstanding target for radar imaging. Many high-resolution images will be compiled by the lab. These images are to be released on the Internet once processed. Come back to this story next week, and some of these radar pictures should be available here. The JPL expects that many features of the asteroid will show up in the images captured.

This close viewing of the large space rock will provide valuable information about all asteroids and like bodies in our solar system. This data should include the surface geography, the rotation, the shape, the size and possibly clues to its origin.asteroid2

Asteroid 1998 QE2 was observed initially in 1998, and its orbit will take it this near the Earth again around the year 2200.

The JPL news release states, “It is tremendously exciting to see detailed images of this asteroid for the first time. With radar we can transform an object from a point of light into a small world with its own unique set of characteristics.”

In the past few years, the space agency has conducted searches for larger objects, such as 1998 QE2, whose trajectories bring them this close to us.

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