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Asteroid to pass near Earth on May 31

Monday, May 20, 2013

A big asteroid will cruise by Earth at the end of the month, making its closest approach to our planet for at least the next two centuries. On February 15, the planet got a dramatic reminder of the potential danger posed by asteroids, when a 55-foot object exploded without warning over Russia, just hours before the 130-foot asteroid 2012 DA14 gave Earth a close shave, missing our planet by 17,200 miles (27,000 km).


On 31st May, at 4.59 pm local time, the asteroid QE 1998 will make its closest pass to the planet, coming as close as 3.6 million miles to it. It will still be about 15 times further away from us like the moon. “The flyby poses no threat to Earth,” said Dr Shirin Haque, astronomer at The University of the West Indies’ Physics Department.


“It will not be possible to see it in Trinidad and Tobago using the telescopes available here, since its closest pass occurs in daylight hours and its movements will make it difficult to track in a telescope. It is also going to be very faint to be picked up easily with low power telescopes,” Dr Haque said.


But the close approach will be dramatic for professional astronomers, who plan to get a good look at 1998 QE2 using two huge radar telescopes, one of which is the 1,000-foot Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. The other is NASA’s Goldstone dish in California. NASA leads the global effort to identify potentially dangerous asteroids.


“The radio telescope in Puerto Rico will be observing and monitoring the asteroid to yield further details on its orbit and structure to help understand its trajectory and origin. We certainly won’t be sticking around for its next visit, as it will be another 200 years before this asteroid will make  pass by again.” Astronomers plan to study 1998 QE2 intensively from May 30 through June 9, using the Goldstone and Arecibo dishes to learn as much as possible about the asteroid before it slips off once more into the depths of space.


Asteroid 1998 QE2 was discovered in August 1998 by astronomers working with MIT’s Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) programme in New Mexico. 


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