The announcement of a large asteroid zipping by earth is always met with a lot of excitement and some apprehension - Especially, given the several close encounters we have had in past few months. After all, there is always the chance that one may veer from its course and decide to come visit us. Fortunately, that did not happen when the ginormous 1998QE2 zipped by earth on Friday, May 31st.
Measuring about 1.7 miles wide, the space rock got to within 3.6 million miles of our planet - While close according to space standards, it was still approximately 15 times the distance the earth is from the moon - meaning that we were in no danger, whatsoever.
The flyby of this giant was a very exciting event for astronomers and scientists who have been waiting for it to come closer to earth since it was discovered on August 19, 1998. And 1998QE2 did not disappoint! Besides being as majestic as had been expected, it also brought along with it a little surprise - It's own 2,000-feet-wide moon - Which puts it in the exclusive 15% category of space rocks that travel in groups of two or three objects revolving around one another - Something scientists call binary asteroids!
While seeing the giant asteroid was definitely a treat, the scientists were interested in it for other reasons too - They wanted to find out as much about 1998QE2 as possible by taking close-up radar pictures, so that they could determine its composition and add it to the growing database of information of large asteroids being collected by NASA's Near-Earth Object Program. It's purpose is to detect, track and characterize potentially dangerous space rocks that come close to earth. By doing this, NASA scientists are hoping to be able to warn the public, if any of these space rocks ever come too close for comfort.
The good news about the 1998QE2, which is next scheduled to pass by Earth at an even safer distance of 45 million miles on July 12th, 2028, is that while it may be one of the larger ones, it is not in the category of the most dangerous asteroids that contain a lot of stone or iron. That's because this gentle giant seems to be made up largely of carbon and amino acids! Having said that, everyone is glad that it has no plans on visiting us anytime soon!
Resources: CNN.com, abclocal.com,dailymail.co.uk