Asteroid 1998 QE2 To Sail Past Earth On Friday (PICTURES)

PICS: Massive Asteroid Set To Sail Past Earth On Friday
Near-Earth asteroid, computer artwork.
Near-Earth asteroid, computer artwork.
Getty Images

The bad news: a massive asteroid is to pass relatively close to the Earth this week.

The good news: it won't hit us - and you might actually be able to see it, if you happen to have access to a decent telescope.

Near Earth Asteroid 285263, also known as 1998 QE2, is very large - estimated to be somewhere between 2.5 and 2.9 km in diameter.

No, it's not named after the Queen Elizabeth 2 ship, though in a press release Nasa does note that it's about 12 times the size of that 12-decked, transatlantic-crossing vessel.

A hypotethical impact from an asteroid this big would be catastrophic, almost certainly causing a near-extinction level event for many species and - depending on our level of preparedness - us as well.

Luckily while it will come within 4 million miles of Earth on Friday, at about 9pm UK time - that's still a reassuring 15 times farther than the Moon. And it won't come closer for another 200 years - which means that's one less of up to 10,000 troubling asteroids to worry about.

While the asteroid has no chance of hitting us, it will still shine brightly in the night sky. It won't top +10th magnitude, which is the rough threshold for seeing an object through binoculars. But if you're able to take a photograph of the sky in the right place, and compare it to one taken 10 minutes later, you should be able to spot it.

Universe Today has a good guide for where to look, focusing on the constellation Libra, where the asteroid should be located by Friday.

Meanwhile if you have a spare 230-foot radar telescope in your back garden - or have enough patience for scientists to do the work for you - the asteroid's passing will be even more dramatic in a couple of weeks, when we get the first official pictures.

Nasa said that the asteroid will be an "outstanding radar imaging target" and added it might be able to discern features on its surface as small as 12 foot across. That presents a great opportunity to study rocks of this size before a potential mission to land on an asteroid in 2016.

Nasa has recently announced even more ambitious plans to capture and redirect an asteroid in space, so that it can be explored by humans.

Unfortunately while both Nasa and ESA are also committed to studying and cataloguing potentially dangerous Near Earth Asteroids, the official line is that our best form of defence is still prayer.


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