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Massive asteroid set for flyby of Earth

Friday - 5/31/2013, 1:03pm  ET

NASA
This image shows asteroid 1998 QE2 and its moon, the white dot at lower right. (Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSSR)

Asteroid to pass by

Greg Redfern, WTOP space contributor

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Greg Redfern, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Earthlings had quite a scare in February when asteroid 2012 DA14 passed by safely while on the same day, a much smaller space rock entered the atmosphere over Russia and exploded, causing widespread property damage and injuries.

On Friday at 4:59 p.m. EDT, the 1.7-mile-wide space rock 1998 QE2 will harmlessly fly by Earth at a distance of 3.6 million miles. It is much larger than the asteroid 2012 DA14 - which has been measured at roughly 100 to 150 feet across - and it was discovered Wednesday during radar observations that the space rock also has a moon.

Sixteen percent of observed near-Earth asteroids have moons. This rock's moon is about 2,000 feet across, or many times the size of 2012 DA14.

The flyby will not be visible in the night sky to the unaided eye, but amateur astronomers with backyard telescopes may catch a glimpse of the asteroid next week. NASA has been observing the asteroid using radar and will continue to do so for the next few days. Observations show dark surface features on 1998 QE2 and it is known to have a dark composition because it reflects only 6 percent of sunlight, making it darker than coal.

You can tune in here to watch live coverage of the flyby starting at 4:30 p.m., courtesy of SPACE.com and Slooh.com:

This is the closest pass of 1998 QE2 for the next two centuries. Get more information about 1998 QE2 here and here.

Meanwhile, NASA recently announced plans to have astronauts visit an asteroid. At 2 p.m. EDT, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver will participate in a White House "We the Geeks" Google+ Hangout. Participants will discuss asteroid identification, characterization, resource utilization and hazard mitigation. The hangout can be viewed here.

See 1998 QE2's orbit path:

See a preview of the flyby:

This story has been modified to correct the size of the asteroid 2012 DA14.

Follow Greg Redfern's daily blog to keep up with the latest news in astronomy and space exploration. You can email him at skyguyinva@gmail.com.

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