Massive asteroid to pass Earth

2013-05-31 20:31
(Picture: AP)

(Picture: AP)

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Washington - An asteroid nearly 3km wide is set to pass by Earth on Friday with no risk of impact, offering scientists a rare chance to study a massive flying object with its own moon.

Asteroid 1998 QE2 will make its closest approach to Earth at 16:59 (20:59 GMT), at a distance of 5.8 million kilometres, or about 15 times the distance between Earth and the moon, the US space agency said.

"This is the closest approach the asteroid will make to Earth for at least the next two centuries," Nasa said.

The asteroid will not be visible to the naked eye, but radar astronomers are already studying it with complementary imaging telescopes in California and Puerto Rico and will continue to analyse it until 9 June.

On Thursday, Nasa scientists using the 70m Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California, reported that the asteroid, first discovered in 1998, also appears to have its own moon.

The huge flying object is known as a binary asteroid, and is circled by a satellite, or moon, that is about 600m wide, Nasa said.

Scientists hope that measurements gathered as the asteroid approaches will help space agencies track other asteroids, including those that might impact the Earth, and calculate their orbits further in advance.

"Radar measurements of asteroid distances and velocities often enable computation of asteroid orbits much further into the future than if radar observations weren't available," Nasa said.

The asteroid-moon duo is in rare company - Nasa says about 16% of asteroids that are 200m or larger are binary or triple systems.

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