Asteroid nine times the size of the QE2 liner to sail pass Earth

 

An asteroid nine times larger than the QE2 is due to sail past the Earth later this month.

Luckily, the giant space rock will get no closer than 3.6 million miles, or 15 times the distance between the Earth and the moon.

Coincidentally, scientists have named the asteroid 1998 QE2. The name has nothing to do with the transatlantic Cunard liner - it follows a code used for newly-discovered asteroids by the US Minor Planet Centre in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The asteroid is believed to be about 1.7 miles long, or nine times the length of the Queen Elizabeth 2 ship.

It was discovered on August 19, 1998, by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (Linear) programme near Socorro, New Mexico.

The object makes its closest approach to Earth at 9.59pm, UK time, on May 31.

Scientists plan to scan it with radar using a 230ft wide dish telescope at the Goldstone Observatory in California's Mojave desert.

Even from a distance of nearly four million miles, the researchers expect to resolve features on the asteroid as small as 12ft across.

Chief investigator Dr Lance Benner, from the American space agency Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said: "It is tremendously exciting to see detailed images of this asteroid for the first time.

"With radar we can transform an object from a point of light into a small world with its own unique set of characteristics."

The asteroid will not make a return trip to the Earth for at least another two centuries.

In 2016 Nasa will launch a robotic sample return mission to one of the most potentially hazardous known near-Earth objects (NEOs), the asteroid (101955) Bennu.

The asteroid, which measures a third of a mile across, comes within 500,000 kilometres of the Earth every six years.

Scientists have calculated that in 2182 there is a one in 1,800 chance of the object colliding with the Earth.

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