A behemoth is headed toward earth on May 31, 2013. An asteroid named 1998 QE2, is due to fly by the earth at the end of this month, providing a spectacle for amateur astronomers, though scientists seem certain that the space debris will not crash into the earth on its journey through space.
1998 QE2 Asteroid Discovery
1998 QE2 was discovered fifteen years ago, though scientists are unsure where the particle actually came from, according to an LA Times piece. It is about 1.7 miles across, and in the extremely unlikely event that it does collide with the earth, it would almost certainly cause a mass extinction on the surface of the planet.
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According to some speculation from Amy Mainzer who works at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, the asteroid’s distinctive blackened sooty surface could indicate that it used to be a comet, and has since gotten too close to the sun’s aura. It may also be an asteroid that was freed from the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars.
The asteroid is predicted to come within about 3.6 million miles of the surface of the planet, at its closest encounter. The International Space Station, in contrast, hits its highest point at around 250 miles above the surface of the planet. There is little to worry about from QE2, it would seem.
This will be the last time that the asteroid will come close to earth for more than a century. The next time the asteroid is predicted to show up is in 2119, long after most of the planet’s current inhabitants have gone further than the asteroid ever will. Orbiting the sun, the object will end up across the solar system several times before it ends up close to out planet again.
Objects like the 1998 QE2 Asteroid are potentially hazardous to life on earth, though certainly not this time around for May 31’s visitor. Their orbit can be changed slightly by minor gravitational pulls and collisions with other objects in space, meaning that it is difficult to rule out a collision at encounter far from their predicted date.
QE2 will not be visible with the naked eye on May 31, and astronomers will be studying it with powerful telescopes utilizing radar technology.