Approaching Asteroid 1998 QE2 Boasts Its Own Moon

Approaching asteroid 1998 QE2 boasts its own moon, according to NASA scientists, who discovered the object in a series of radar images taken Wednesday evening.

While an asteroid having a moon might seem strange to us, about 16 percent of asteroids in the near-Earth population that measure 665 feet or larger are either binary or triple systems.

The radar observations of the approaching QE2 asteroid were led by scientist Marina Brozovic of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The radar images were taken sing the 230-foot Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California.

The asteroid’s closest approach will happen at 1:59 pm PDT on Friday. At that time, the asteroid and its moon will be no closer than 3.6 million miles, or about 15 times the distance between the Earth and its moon, from us.

Asteroid 1998 QE2 was discovered on August 19, 1998 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) program in New Mexico. The latest approach is the closest the space rock is expected to come to Earth in the next 200 years.

That knowledge is causing astronomers to use the small amount of time they have between May 20 and June 9 to study the asteroid and take as much footage of it as they can. They will do so using the Deep Space Network antenna, as well as the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

The telescopes have similar imaging capabilities that will allow scientists to learn as much as possible about 1998 QE2 as they can before it fades from view again. While the preliminary estimate for the asteroid’s moon is 2,000 feet wide, that estimate could change as the asteroid moves closer to Earth.

The main asteroid is about the size of nine ocean liners put together, or 1.7 miles across. Astronomers added that 1998 QE2 poses no threat to earth, despite its proximity on Friday. And despite its size, the space rock won’t be visible with the naked eye. However, live telescope webcasts can be seen here.

Are you surprised to hear that the asteroid buzzing by Earth on Friday has a moon?

[Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSSR]