Giant asteroid with its own moon safely passes Earth
Published Friday, May 31, 2013 8:24AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, May 31, 2013 5:48PM EDT
A giant asteroid with a travelling companion whizzed by Earth Friday evening, giving scientists the best glimpse of the rock in at least two centuries.
The 2.7 kilometre-wide asteroid, named 1998 QE2 for the date it was discovered, was closest to Earth at approximately 5 p.m. NASA scientists discovered Wednesday evening that a smaller moon asteroid is circling QE2 – an unusual space phenomenon.
But even at its closest point, Q2 was still 5.8 million kilometres away – or 15 times the distance between the Earth and the moon.
“There’s no chance of it hitting us,” said Scott Sutherland, author of the Geekquinox blog on Yahoo. “It’s a really great one for us to watch as it sails past.”
Sutherland told CTV News Channel on Friday that the asteroid will head back to Mars and Jupiter in a few days, all while remaining a comfortable distance from Earth.
Friday marked the asteroid’s closest approach to Earth for at least the next two centuries, according to NASA.
NASA scientist Paul Chodas told the Associated Press that QE2 is one of the larger asteroids to swing by Earth, comparing it to the size the space rock that wiped out the dinosaurs.
Its approach came about three months after a meteor explosion over Russia’s Ural Mountains injured thousands, prompting a greater interest in monitoring potential threats that are floating in space.
Sutherland said while there’s nothing currently in place that has the ability to deflect an asteroid, a number of ideas are on the table.
“People looking into painting an asteroid with a really bright paint and letting the sun do the work for us,” he said, explaining that the sun’s light would put pressure on the rock and “nudge it out of the way.”
In 2012, NASA’s Near-Earth Object budget was increased from $6 million to $20 million and the agency says dozens of people are involved with some aspect of near-Earth object research.
NASA says it places a high priority on tracking asteroids and protecting the Earth from them.
“To date, U.S. assets have discovered more than 98 percent of the known Near-Earth Objects,” the agency said in a statement.
NASA recently announced the development of a first-ever mission to identify, capture and relocate an asteroid for human exploration.
“Using game-changing technologies this mission would mark an unprecedented technological achievement that raises the bar of what humans can do in space,”
NASA said. “Capturing and redirecting an asteroid will integrate the best of NASA's science, technology and human exploration capabilities and draw on the innovation of America's brightest scientists and engineers.”