A massive asteroid 1998 QE2 will fly past Earth May 31, 2013 at 1:59 p.m.Pacific (4:59 p.m. Eastern / 20:59 UTC). Astronomers say it will not approach closer than 3.6 million miles (5.8 million km), about 15 times the distance between Earth and Moon.
Astronomers plan to use radar telescopes to study the asteroid as it flies by between May 30 and June 9.
According to NASA, this is the closest approach asteroid 1998 QE2 will make to Earth for at least the next two centuries. Its next approach is expected in 2119, LA Times reports.
Astronomers have assured that there is no chance that 1998 QE2 could collide with the Earth.
Amy Mianzer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, La Cañada Flintridge, said: "This is a really big asteroid, similar in size to the one that killed off the dinosaurs, and it's getting very close to us. Fortunately we've been tracking its orbit very carefully so we know with great certainty it won't hit us. We don't need to panic, but we do need to pay attention."
The asteroid was discovered on August 19, 1998, by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) program near Socorro, New Mexico.
Astronomers plan to study the asteroid as it flies by between May 30 and June 9, using the Goldstone and Arecibo dishes. According to NASA, even from 4 million miles, the dishes could resolve features on the asteroid as small as 12 feet (3.75 meters) across.
Lance Benner, radar astronomer and principal investigator for the Goldstone radar observations, said: "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. 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.
"It is tremendously exciting to see detailed images of this asteroid for the first time. 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."
Orbit: Asteroid 1998 QE2
The asteroid is about 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers) long, and according to NASA, about the length of nine Queen Elizabeth II ocean liners. However, NASA explains that the space rock was not named after the ocean liner. It was named by the NASA affiliated Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which gives each newly discovered asteroid a unique name.
According to LA Times, scientist are not certain about the origin of the asteroid. Mianzer said that the sooty substance on its surface suggests it may have resulted from a comet that approached the Sun too closely.
NASA leads the global effort to document near-Earth asteroids that pose impact risk. NASA says it has the most robust and productive survey and detection program for near-Earth objects (NEOs), having discovered over 98 percent of the known NEOs.
NASA plans to send a robotic probe to one of the most potentially hazardous near-Earth objects known in 2016. The OSIRIS-REx mission to asteroid (101955) Bennu will lay groundwork for efforts involving spacecraft reconnaissance on newly discovered hazardous NEOs.