A massive asteroid known as 1998 QE2 will make its closest approach to the Earth on Friday, May 31, offering a unique viewing opportunity.
Eyes on the skies Friday around 1:59 pm PST as a 1.7-mile-long asteroid (1998 QE2) makes a flyby of the Earth, coming within 3.6 million miles. Although quite a distance away, this approach will be the closest the space rock will make for at least the next two hundred years, and it should be visible to those with a mid-sized telescope. Asteroid 1998 QE2 was first discovered in August 1998 by astronomers working with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) Program in New Mexico.
There is no chance of a collision, but the asteroid will be monitored closely. Some may remember the last time Earth had a “close encounter” with an asteroid. On February 15, 2013, just hours before the closest-ever predicted approach by an asteroid (2012 DA14 at a mere 17,200 miles above the Earth), a 55-foot, nine-ton meteor streaked completely undetected across the skies above Russia’s Ural Mountains and exploded. The airburst from that fireball injured more than 1,500 people and created a sonic boom that damaged thousands of buildings in the region. Known as the Chelyabinsk Meteor, it was the largest such explosion since the 1908 Tunguska Event.
Astronomers are excited about the opportunity presented by 1998 QE2, and plan to study the asteroid to learn as much as possible about it before it departs back into deep space. According to radar astronomer Lance Benner, Principal Investigator for the Goldstone radar observations from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California, “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.”
But astronomers aren’t the only ones excited about 1998 QE2 and other asteroids. Space.com reported on Wednesday that Planetary Resources, a privately owned company created to “mine asteroids,” announced plans to develop “a suite of spacecraft, dubbed ARKYD, to study solar-system asteroids as a precursor to mining missions.”
Planetary Resources has some very high-profile backers, including filmmaker James Cameron and Google co-founder Larry Page. Based on strong, positive public response to Planetary Resources’ initial announcement, the company also announced they are launching a “crowd-funding campaign” on Kickstarter to make one of the ARKYD telescopes “available for the public’s use.” The campaign is set to run for the next month and hopes to raise $1 million dollars towards the construction and launch of a public-use ARKYD.
Depending on the level of donation, people will be able to have a “space selfie” portrait taken ($25), help find “killer asteroids and alien galaxies” ($99), or even control the telescope for a limited amount of time (donations of $200 or more). And if they’re a really big spender ($10,000), Planetary Resources will name a newly discovered asteroid after them!
While NASA continues to hunt the skies for possible hazardous asteroids, the ARKYD program may be an indicator of what’s to come in space exploration. Meanwhile, 1998 QE2 quietly makes its way closer to Earth. Although there is no danger from this asteroid, only about 10 percent of an estimated 10,000 potential “killer asteroids” have been discovered. And with objects of that size hitting the Earth approximately every 1,000 years, it seems to be simply a matter of time before Earth is struck…again.
Share this post...