QE2 Asteroid Makes Near-Earth Flyby This Week

Brett Smith and Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

[ Update: May 30, 2013 – Asteroid 1998 QE2 Has A Moon ]

Radar data taken on Wednesday has revealed that asteroid 1998 QE2 has an orbiting moon. NASA said that about 16 percent of asteroids are binary or triple systems. The 1.7 mile wide asteroid will be passing by Earth at a safe distance of about 3.6 million miles on Friday. [ Watch the Video: Radar Reveals Asteroid 1998 QE2 has a Moon ]

[ Update: May 30, 2013 – How To Watch ]

NASA has announced that members of the public can participate in both online and televised events on May 30 and 31 surrounding the space agency’s asteroid program and the impending near-Earth flyby of the 1.7-mile-long asteroid known as 1998 QE2.

On May 30, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) will show live telescope images of the approaching asteroid and host a discussion with experts from JPL and the asteroid trackers at the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex on NASA Television at 1:30 pm EST.

On May 31, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver will participate in a White House “We the Geeks” discussion hosted on Google+ at 2pm EST. Topics scheduled for the discussion include “asteroid identification, characterization, resource utilization, and hazard mitigation,” according to a statement from the space agency.

The 1.7-mile wide asteroid will hurtle past Earth at a distance of 3.6 million miles about two hours after the conclusion of the Google+ event. While that distance is far enough for the asteroid to be considered non-threatening, it is close enough to excite NASA astronomers.

Slooh Space Camera has also announced plans to follow the asteroid’s approach.

Slooh will cover its closest approach on Friday, May 31st, live on Slooh.com, free to the public, starting at 1:30 p.m. PDT / 4:30 p.m. EDT / 20:30 UTC. Viewers can watch live on their PC/Mac or by downloading the free Slooh iPad app in the iTunes store and touching the broadcast icon.

[ Original: May 16, 2013 ]

On May 31, a 1.7-mile-wide asteroid called QE2 will hurtle past Earth at a distance of 3.6 million miles. While that distance is far enough for the asteroid to be considered non-threatening, it is close enough to excite NASA astronomers.

The space agency is expected to use the radar antennas at the Goldstone Observatory in California and the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico to track the passage of QE2 and capture detailed images of its surface.

“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,” said Lance Benner, a lead investigator for Goldstone. “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,” he added.

The asteroid, which was discovered on Aug. 19, 1998, will make its closest approach to Earth for at least the next two hundred years on May 31 at 1:59 PM PST. The radar antennas are expected to generate images that could resolve detail on the asteroid´s surface as small as 12 feet across from 4 million miles away.

“It is tremendously exciting to see detailed images of this asteroid for the first time,” Benner said. “With radar we can transform an object from a point of light into a small world with its own unique set of characteristics. In a real sense, radar imaging of near-Earth asteroids is a fundamental form of exploring a whole class of solar system objects.”

NASA prioritizes the tracking of near-Earth objects (NEO) like QE2 for both scientific and protective purposes, utilizing a robust and productive survey program in the process. In 2012, the space agency set aside $20 million for its NEO program. NASA also collaborates with other government agencies and research institutions around the country that are working to track and understand these objects.

In 2016, NASA will take a pro-active approach toward one of the more hazardous looking NEOs, the asteroid known as (101955) Bennu. The OSIRIS-REx mission will send a probe to perform reconnaissance on the object and bring a sample back to Earth. Besides analyzing a potential threat, NASA said in a statement that the mission “enables a valuable opportunity to learn more about the origins of our solar system, the source of water on Earth, and even the origin of organic molecules that lead to the development of life.”

The space agency also recently announced plans to identify and capture an asteroid for human exploration. If it were to be successful, the mission would be an unprecedented technological achievement for space exploration and human history. It will require groundbreaking technology from America’s most innovative scientists and engineers.

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