A huge asteroid sailed safely past Earth Friday afternoon, making its closest approach to our planet for at least the next two centuries.
Asteroid 1998 QE2, which is about 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers) wide, cruised within 3.6 million miles (5.8 million km) of Earth at 4:59 p.m. EDT (2059 GMT) today, then slipped silently off into the depths of space once again.
There was no chance the 1.7-mile-wide 1998 QE2 would hit us, researchers say. That's a good thing, because a strike by such a big space rock would cause catastrophic damage, potentially wiping out our species
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Binary systems are quite common among near-Earth asteroids. Of space rocks at least 655 feet across, about 16 percent are binary or triple systems, NASA officials said.
1998 QE2 posed no threat of hitting Earth during the flyby, space agency officials assured. Its closest approach occurred at 4:59 EDT, and it passed at least 3.6 million miles away from the planet.
The asteroid was not be visible to the unaided eye as it zipped by, but on Friday afternoon, live telescope webcasts of the asteroid flyby were on SPACE.com.
Though harmlessly far away, this was the nearest 1998 QE2 will get to Earth in the next two centuries. As it passes, the asteroid will be closely watched by astronomers.
In addition to the 230-foot-wide Deep Space Network antenna, astronomers will also be using the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico to observe 1998 QE2 until June 9.
Radar images help scientists understand the nature of asteroids and improve their calculations of asteroid orbits. The images obtained Wednesday night also revealed dark features on the surface of 1998 QE2, which suggest it has several large concavities, NASA scientists said.
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1998 QE2 was first discovered on Aug. 19, 1998, by MIT's Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) program near Socorro, N.M.
NASA keeps a close watch on near-Earth objects, or NEOs, that could pose a potential threat to the planet. Among the space agency's ambitious plans for the future study of asteroids is OSIRIS-REx , a mission set to launch in 2016 and rendezvous with the near-Earth asteroid 1999 RQ36 in 2020.