Wednesday 29 May 2013

Asteroid 1998 QE2 to pass Earth at about 5 800 000 km on Friday.

Asteroid 1998 QE2, a 2.7 km chunk of spacerock, will pass the Earth this week, coming closest to the Earth at about 9.00 pm (GMT) on Friday 31 May 2013. Since this is about 15 times as far from the Earth as the Moon, the asteroid will not present any threat to life on Earth, but it should be possible to see it with a descent home telescope (in the constellation of Libra), and planetary scientists hope to be able to map its surface with Earth-based radar telescopes.

The comparative orbits of Earth and 1998 QE2. JPL Small Body Database Browser.

Asteroid 1998 QE2 has an elliptical 3.77 year orbit that brings it to within 5.79 million km of the Earth's orbit at it's closest to the Sun - though it never actually crosses our orbit, so it is not an immediate threat (potentially a future encounter with another object could alter its orbit making it more dangerous, but this is not a likely occurrence). At its furthest point it reaches 3.8 AU from the Sun (i.e. 3.8 times as far from the Sun as the Earth), roughly mid-way between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

The full orbit of 1998 QE2. JPL Small Body Database Browser.

The designation 1998 QE2 has nothing to do with either the British Monarchy of the Cunard liner; rather it is a product of a naming convention based upon when asteroids are found; in this instance 1998 Q implies the object was discovered in the second half of August 1998, and E2 implies it was the 55th object discovered in this period (the numbers  1-25 are represented by the letters A-Z, excluding I, and numbers indicate extra runs through the alphabet; thus E is 5, E1 is 30 and E2 is 55).

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