[meteorite-list] Asteroid 1998 QE2 to Sail Past Earth Nine Times Larger Than Cruise Ship
From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Thu, 16 May 2013 09:10:39 -0700 (PDT)
Asteroid 1998 QE2 to Sail Past Earth Nine Times Larger Than Cruise Ship
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
May 15, 2013
On May 31, 2013, asteroid 1998 QE2 will sail serenely past Earth,
getting no closer than about 3.6 million miles (5.8 million kilometers),
or about 15 times the distance between Earth and the moon. And while QE2
is not of much interest to those astronomers and scientists on the
lookout for hazardous asteroids, it is of interest to those who dabble
in radar astronomy and have a 230-foot (70-meter) -- or larger -- radar
telescope at their disposal.
"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 radar astronomer Lance Benner, the principal investigator for the
Goldstone radar observations from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in
Pasadena, Calif. "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
The closest approach of the asteroid occurs on May 31 at 1:59 p.m.
Pacific (4:59 p.m. Eastern / 20:59 UTC). This is the closest approach
the asteroid will make to Earth for at least the next two centuries.
Asteroid 1998 QE2 was discovered on Aug. 19, 1998, by the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR)
program near Socorro, New Mexico.
The asteroid, which is believed to be about 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers)
or nine Queen Elizabeth 2 ship-lengths in size, is not named after that
12-decked, transatlantic-crossing flagship for the Cunard Line. Instead,
the name is assigned by the NASA-supported Minor Planet Center in
Cambridge, Mass., which gives each newly discovered asteroid a
provisional designation starting with the year of first detection, along
with an alphanumeric code indicating the half-month it was discovered,
and the sequence within that half-month.
Radar images from the Goldstone antenna could resolve features on the
asteroid as small as 12 feet (3.75 meters) across, even from 4 million
"It is tremendously exciting to see detailed images of this asteroid for
the first time," said Benner. "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."
Asteroids, which are always exposed to the sun, can be shaped like
almost anything under it. Those previously imaged by radar and
spacecraft have looked like dog bones, bowling pins, spheroids,
diamonds, muffins, and potatoes. To find out what 1998 QE2 looks like,
stay tuned. Between May 30 and June 9, radar astronomers using NASA's
230-foot-wide (70 meter) Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone,
Calif., and the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, are planning an
extensive campaign of observations. The two telescopes have
complementary imaging capabilities that will enable astronomers to learn
as much as possible about the asteroid during its brief visit near Earth.
NASA places a high priority on tracking asteroids and protecting our
home planet from them. In fact, the U.S. has the most robust and
productive survey and detection program for discovering near-Earth
objects. To date, U.S. assets have discovered over 98 percent of the
In 2012, the NEO budget was increased from $6 million to $20 million.
Literally dozens of people are involved with some aspect of near-Earth
object (NEO) research across NASA and its centers. Moreover, there are
many more people involved in researching and understanding the nature of
asteroids and comets, including those that come close to the Earth, plus
those who are trying to find and track them in the first place.
In addition to the resources NASA puts into understanding asteroids, it
also partners with other U.S. government agencies, university-based
astronomers, and space science institutes across the country that are
working to track and better understand these objects, often with grants,
interagency transfers and other contracts from NASA.
NASA's Near-Earth Object Program at NASA Headquarters, Washington,
manages and funds the search, study, and monitoring of asteroids and
comets whose orbits periodically bring them close to Earth. JPL manages
the Near-Earth Object Program Office for NASA's Science Mission
Directorate in Washington. JPL is a division of the California Institute
of Technology in Pasadena.
In 2016, NASA will launch a robotic probe to one of the most potentially
hazardous of the known NEOs. The OSIRIS-REx mission to asteroid (101955)
Bennu will be a pathfinder for future spacecraft designed to perform
reconnaissance on any newly-discovered threatening objects. Aside from
monitoring potential threats, the study of asteroids and comets 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.
NASA recently announced developing a first-ever mission to identify,
capture and relocate an asteroid for human exploration. Using
game-changing technologies advanced by the Administration, this mission
would mark an unprecedented technological achievement that raises the
bar of what humans can do in space. Capturing and redirecting an
asteroid will integrate the best of NASA's science, technology and human
exploration capabilities and draw on the innovation of America's
brightest scientists and engineers.
More information about asteroids and near-Earth objects is available at:
http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/ , http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/asteroidwatch and via
Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/asteroidwatch .
More information about asteroid radar research is at:
More information about the Deep Space Network is at:
DC Agle 818-393-9011 Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
agle at jpl.nasa.gov
Received on Thu 16 May 2013 12:10:39 PM PDT