Asteroid QE2 And Its Moon Complete Safe, Successful Fly-By Of Earth
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
Asteroid 1998 QE2 and its recently discovered moon sailed safely past the Earth on Friday, passing within 3.6 million miles of our planet at approximately 5pm Eastern time, according to various media reports.
During its fly-by, QE2 was 200 times further away from the Earth than an asteroid “near-miss” which took place back in February, according to BBC News. However, it was over 50,000 times larger than that object, Asteroid 2012 DA14, giving astronomers a chance to study it in detail and capture high-resolution images of both it and its moon.
The asteroid will not return to this area of space until July 12, 2028, officials from the Near Earth Object Office at NASA´s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California reported via Twitter on Friday. When it does return, it will be a “very safe” 45 million miles away from Earth.
“The fly-by had astronomers less fearful and more excited about getting the ℠best look at this asteroid ever,´” said CNN´s Ben Brumfield. Officials at JPL told Brumfield that the images captured during QE2´s approach should be close to the same quality as those taken by spacecraft when they approach asteroids.
The asteroid, which was discovered on August 19, 1998, approached close enough to give scientists and stargazers a chance to observe the 1.7-mile-wide asteroid — and for those unable to do so using their own equipment, NASA held both online and televised events on May 30 and 31, according to redOrbit.com´s own Brett Smith and Lee Rannals
The tracking of QE2 “represents a milestone in NASA’s Near Earth Object Project, which scopes out the heavens for potential danger from celestial projectiles whizzing past,” Brumfield added. Paul Chodas, a scientist with the project, called it “one of the initial successes” of the initiative, which tracks larger asteroids with the potential of crashing into the Earth and causing damage on the planet´s surface, according to CNN.
Equally as intriguing was the discovery that QE2´s moon, which NASA officials said occurs in approximately 16 percent of asteroids, is at least 655 feet in size. The discovery was made on Thursday, and NASA reported that preliminary estimates pegged the size of the asteroid´s satellite at approximately 2,000 feet wide.
“NASA places a high priority on tracking asteroids and protecting our home planet from them,” the US space agency said. To date, their efforts are responsible for discovering more than 98 percent of known Near-Earth Objects. In 2016, NASA will launch a robotic probe to asteroid (101955) Bennu, one of the most high-risk of the identified Near-Earth Objects, and they recently announced plans to try to capture and relocate an asteroid so that it can be explored and studies by astronauts.