Asteroid 1998 QE2’s Close Flyby Caught On Video

The giant asteroid named 1998 QE2 was captured on video during its flyby of Earth last week. The recently released video has revealed some key details about the massive space rock, along with its much smaller moon.

The asteroid sailed past our planet on May 31 at a distance of 3.6 million miles. The approach was the rock’s closest for the next two hundred years or more.

The new video released is comprised of 55 images NASA’s 230-foot-wide Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California, took while the asteroid was roughly 3.75 million miles away. The resolution on the video is about 125 feet of asteroid per pixel.

Analysis of the Goldstone images have helped scientists narrow down their estimate of 1998 QE2’s size. The space rock’s width is about 1.9 miles, while its moon is about 2,000 feet wide.

Researchers added that the asteroid’s moon orbits once every 32 hours and shows just one face to the larger body (much like Earth’s moon always shows us its near side). While the moon rotates once every 32 hours, Asteroid 1998 QE2 completes a rotation on its axis once every five hours.

The space rock is one of the largest and slowest-spinning binary asteroids that radar instruments have ever observed. While it may sound strange that the massive asteroid has a moon, the multi-asteroid system isn’t uncommon. One of every six asteroids more than 655 feet wide that pass near Earth are either binary or triple systems.

The massive 1998 QE2 asteroid was first discovered in 1998 by astronomers at MIT’s Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research program in New Mexico. It is one of about 10,000 closely monitored asteroids that have been spotted so far. Astronomers estimate that unknown asteroids passing by Earth could number in the millions.

Despite the asteroid’s close flyby last week, there was no danger of QE2 actually impacting our planet. NASA officials will continue studying 1998 QE2 using the Goldstone facility, as well as the 1,000-foot Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, until Sunday.

[Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSSR]