By Jason KUROSU
On Friday, May 31, an asteroid avoided colliding with the Earth, missing it by a healthy margin of 3.6 million miles. At 1.7 miles across, a direct impact with the asteroid known as 1998 QE2 would likely have caused massive, global destruction. In this case, however, those with telescopes could witness the event Friday night from a safe distance.
Near-Earth asteroids are somewhat common on a smaller scale, according to Don Yeomans of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program, with an object around 60 meters approaching Earth every few months. The chance of an object the size of 1998 QE2 coming this close to Earth is much less likely.
“QE2 is quite large for a near-Earth asteroid (about 3 km in diameter) so one would not expect an object of this size to pass this close (15 lunar distances) but every seven years or so,” said Yeomans.
After passing by Earth, QE2 has traveled back into space, returning into an orbit with the sun. Though the orbits of both the Earth and QE2 will eventually sync up, this will bring QE2 no closer than 3.75 million miles to Earth within the next 200 years. This distance, known as the point of closest approach, is about 15 times the distance between the Earth and the moon.
This is fortunate for the planet’s inhabitants, considering that 1998 QE2 is large enough to have its own moon orbiting it, measuring about 2,000 feet across.
According to data from the Near Earth Object Program, another asteroid of approximately the same size will be passing by Earth on June 12, about six million miles further than the approach of 1998 QE2.