CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - An asteroid more than 1½ miles long will zoom past Earth this week from a far-off distance.
The big rock called Asteroid 1998 QE2 will make its closest approach Friday. It will keep a safe distance of 3.6 million miles, or 15 times the distance between Earth and the moon.
You won't be able to see it without a powerful telescope -- a 230-foot (70-meter) or larger.
It's believed to be about 1.7 miles long, or about nine times the length of the Queen Elizabeth 2 cruise ship. But that has nothing to do with its name. The letters and number in the name represent the timing and sequence of the asteroid's discovery in 1998.
Scientists will use large radar telescopes to study the asteroid.
"We expect to obtain a series of high-resolution images that could reveal a wealth of surface features," said radar astronomer Lance Benner, the principal investigator for the Goldstone radar observations from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Whenever an asteroid approaches this closely, it provides an important scientific opportunity to study it in detail to understand its size, shape, rotation, surface features, and what they can tell us about its origin. We will also use new radar measurements of the asteroid's distance and velocity to improve our calculation of its orbit and compute its motion farther into the future than we could otherwise."
JPL's website: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2013-163