Asteroid designated 1998 QE2 will pass near the Earth on May 31, being closest to our planet at 20:59 UTC. While those of you afraid of the apocalypse, that would ensue should an asteroid as big as 1998 QE2 ever hit the surface of our planet, are surely relieved that it is not passing any nearer our home, those of you eager to find out more about this one and asteroids in general can appreciate this opportunity to have a closer look at one of these celestial bodies.
Measuring 2.7 kilometers in length and passing the Earth at about 5.8 million kilometers, 1998 QE2 is nothing to be afraid of. It is, however, giving us a chance to have the first detailed images of its surface. Between May 30 and June 9, astronomers at Goldstone in California and the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico are planning a series of observations with 70-meter-wide radar telescopes. Resulting images will resolve features on the asteroid as small as 4 meters across. To put it in perspective, that means a car-sized features will be recognizable from a distance that is about 15 times the distance from here to the Moon!
We could benefit greatly from understanding where the asteroid has originated from, its exact velocity, rotation and size, as well as where it will travel in the future. NASA is increasing funds for Near-Earth Object (NEO) research in an attempt to better understand the origins of our solar system, the source of water on Earth and the origin of organic molecules on our planet.
In 2016, NASA will launch a robotic probe to asteroid Bennu, one of the most potentially dangerous NEO we know of, in order to examine it more closely and possibly give way to relocating future asteroids. Altering asteroids' trajectory is ambitious, like plots from certain sci-fi movies, but there is a reasonable chance that sometime in the future there will be a need for such an endeavour.