May 24, 2013 12:37 pm

Asteroid set to buzz past Earth

The orbit of asteroid 1998 QE2.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

Get ready for QE2. The asteroid, that is…not the cruise ship.

It’s not the doomsday asteroid, but it is paying us a visit — from a safe distance.

The asteroid, designated 1998 QE2, will pass us at about 5.8 million km, or about 15 times the distance between Earth and the moon. Although it may seem like that’s pretty far, astronomically speaking, it’s close enough.

Astronomers believe the asteroid is about 2.7 km long. That would be 9 Queen Elizabeth 2 ship-lengths.

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The asteroid will make its closest approach at 4:59 p.m. EST on May 31st and astronomers are anxiously awaiting its arrival so they can observe the asteroid and learn as much as they can about it.

If you’re wondering why the asteroid was named after the famous ship, the Queen Elizabeth 2, it wasn’t. The names of asteroids are assigned by the NASA-supported Minor Planet Center which gives each asteroid a name starting with the year it was discovered, then by an alphanumeric code indicating which half of the month it was detected and then a sequence within that half-month.

There have been calls by scientists to track potentially hazardous asteroids, or PHAs. In fact NASA has a Near Earth Object (NEO) program designed to identify potentially deadly asteroids that could hit Earth.

On Feb. 15,  Russian residents living in and around Chelyabinsk were shaken, and many were injured, after a fireball broke up in the atmosphere, slamming into Earth. By pure chance, that same day asteroid 2012 DA14 made a very close approach to Earth at a mere 27,680 kms. That’s closer than our geosynchronous satellites. The two events were not related.

In 1908, a meteor exploded over Tunguska, Russia, with the energy of 185 Hiroshima bombs. Because it exploded over a dense forest, no one was injured or killed.

© Shaw Media, 2013

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