| USWorld

Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Big and scary asteroid will luckily just make a flyby

Email Newsletters

Click here to sign up for one of our email newsletters.

Daily Photo Galleries

By The Los Angeles Times
Saturday, May 18, 2013, 7:36 p.m.

It's 1.7 miles long. Its surface is covered in a sticky, black substance similar to the gunk at the bottom of a barbecue. If it impacted Earth it would probably result in global extinction. Good thing it's just making a flyby.

Asteroid 1998 QE2 will make its closest pass to Earth on May 31 at 1:59 p.m. PDT.

Scientists are not sure where this unusually large space rock, which was discovered 15 years ago, originated. But the mysterious sooty substance on its surface could indicate it may be a result of a comet that flew too close to the sun, said Amy Mainzer, who tracks near-Earth objects at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge, Calif. It might also have leaked out of the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, she said.

We will know more after the asteroid zips closer to Earth and scientists using the Deep Space Network antenna in Goldstone, Calif., and the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico can get a better look at it. Astronomers at both observatories plan to track it closely from May 30 to June 9.

At its closest approach the asteroid will still be 3.6 million miles from our planet (about 15 times the distance between the Earth and the moon), but it will be close enough for these powerful radar antennas to see features as small as 12 feet across.

“With radar we can transform an object from a point of light into a small world with its own characteristics,” Lance Benner, JPL's principal investigator for Goldstone radar observations, said in a statement.

There is no chance that asteroid 1998 QE2 could collide with Earth this go-around, and its next close approach won't be until 2119.

Still, Mainzer said the size of the asteroid, and its potential for mass destruction, should remind us that there are some scary things flying around in space.

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.



Show commenting policy

Most-Read Nation

  1. McCarthy withdraws candidacy for speaker
  2. Volkswagen exec ready to testify in D.C.
  3. Scientists call coral bleaching global crisis
  4. High court poised to rule against Kansas trio
  5. Speaker’s job contest may be start of battles
  6. DNA repair research earns 3 Nobel Prize
  7. Former Massey CEO’s character debated: Profit hungry or safety conscious?
  8. Faith a comfort in aftermath of Oregon shooting
  9. Broadening police collection of license plate photos spurs privacy discussion
  10. Cultural shift needed for Cleveland Police Department, monitoring team member says
  11. Guantanamo detainee Kamin to be freed after 11 years