‘City Killer’ Giant Asteroid Passes Earth Today
1.7 mile wide rock and its moon fly by at 5pm ET
An asteroid as long as the Golden Gate Bridge will pass harmlessly by Earth on Friday as NASA and private firms aim to explore or commercially exploit these rocky interplanetary bodies rich with precious metals and rare minerals.
But coming just three months after a meteor explosion injured more than 1,000 people in Russia, the flyby also will point up the need to hunt down and track asteroids that threaten Earth — to develop capabilities to deflect incoming asteroids that could cause planetary catastrophe.
“In response to a question we always get — ‘Can you protect the planet?’ — the answer to that is ‘no,'” NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, a former astronaut, said Thursday on the eve of asteroid 1998 QE2’s closest approach to Earth.
“But if we’re able to get into space, and humans are able to redirect an asteroid, or deflect it in some slight way, we may be getting close to the day when we can say, ‘Yes, we can protect the planet.’ ”
About 1.7 miles in diameter — or, nine times longer than a cruise ship — Asteroid 1998 QE2 will make its closest approach to Earth at 4:59 p.m. Friday
“This is one of the big ones,” said Paul Chodas, a scientist with NASA’s Near-Earth Orbit Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. “It’s certainly one to keep an eye on.”
Chodas and colleagues over the past 15 years have catalogued 9,808 near-Earth asteroids that are greater than two-thirds-of-a-mile wide and could cause global destruction in a collision, rendering the human species extinct.
Asteroid 1998 QE2 was one of the first to be identified and tracked, and now it is on a course that will pass within 3.6 million miles of Earth on Friday.
Have no fear. That’s 15 times the distance between the Earth and the moon.
But it’s close enough to give scientists a rare astronomical glimpse at a rocky remnant of the solar system’s birth 4.5 billion years ago.
“In a way, it’s a visitor from deep space,” Chodas said.
Planetary astronomers using NASA’s Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, Calif., and Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico are tracking the asteroid.
They’ve already made a new discovery: Asteroid 1998 QE2 is a “binary.” Scientists this week discovered a smaller natural satellite — about one-third-of-a-mile in diameter — orbiting the asteroid. Marina Brozovic, a NASA JPL radar scientist, said the find was a surprise.
Asteroid 1998 QE2 is a very dark, carbonaceous object chock full of amino acids and organic materials, and the flyby will have the full attention of startup firms interested in mining asteroids.