Huge asteroid about nine Queen Elizabeth 2 ship-lengths in size to flyby Earth today

An asteroid named 1998 QE2 will whiz past Earth on Friday, May 31st, at 4:59 pm EDT (3.25 am IST).

Updated: May 31, 2013, 09:59 AM IST

Zee Media Bureau

Washington: An asteroid named 1998 QE2 will whiz past Earth on Friday, May 31st, at 4:59 pm EDT (3.25 am IST).

The asteroid will be travelling across the sky with a relative velocity of 10.58 kilometres per second, or 23,666 mph, which is about 15 times faster than a rifle bullet.

According to NASA, “The asteroid, which is believed to be about 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometres) or nine Queen Elizabeth 2 ship-lengths in size, is not named after that 12-decked, transatlantic-crossing flagship for the Cunard Line.”

If asteroid 1998 QE2 were to hit Earth, the damage would be catastrophic-potentially an extinction level event. In comparison, the asteroid that destroyed the dinosaurs was approximately 6 miles (10 km) wide.

As a surprise bonus, astronomers on Wednesday also discovered a smaller moon asteroid, which is circling the larger space rocknight by using a radar to look at QE2. The moon asteroid is about 2,000 feet wide.

Slooh Space Camera will cover its closest approach on Friday live on, free to the public, starting at 1:30 p.m. PDT / 4:30 p.m. EDT / 20:30 UTC-viewers can watch live on their PC/Mac or by downloading the free Slooh iPad app in the iTunes store and touching the broadcast icon.

Discovered in 1998 by astronomers working with MIT`s Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) program in New Mexico, QE2 is almost 1.7 miles (2.7 km) wide-nearly two orders of magnitude larger than the "close call" asteroids that have been passing by lately, and will pass about 15 times the Moon`s distance from our planet. As a consequence, this asteroid is large enough to reveal detail as small as 12 feet cross, via radar techniques.

At its closest approach on May 31st, 1998 QE2 will shine at 11th magnitude, 100 times fainter than the dimmest star visible to the unaided eye far from city lights. But the asteroid will be an easy catch for the Slooh observatories in the Canary Islands, off the coast of West Africa.

"It will be fun to actually watch it change position," said Astronomy magazine columnist Bob Berman.

"And although it will not come nearer than 14 Moon distances, that`s still about ten times closer than Mars can ever get. As Slooh`s Space Cameras image it directly that afternoon, we will all be reminded that asteroids of this size have changed the biosphere of our planet in the past, and even set the stage for the present dominion of humans. It also assures us that it was a good idea that NASA, in 2012, tripled its budget for detecting and mapping such near Earth objects," Berman explained.

"Using our patented technologies and robotic observatory, Slooh will be able to provide real-time views of this massive space rock as it flies by Earth on close approach," said Slooh president Patrick Paolucci.

(With ANI inputs)