Asteroid as big as 9 cruise ships to sail by Earth

The asteroid will get no closer than 3.6 million miles, 15 times the distance between us and the moon, but because of its size, stargazers are in for a visual treat.

An asteroid nine times the size of a cruise ship will sail harmlessly past Earth May 31.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JET) said in a news release that the unusually large asteroid will get no closer than 3.6 million miles, 15 times the distance between Earth and the moon.

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But even from that distance, the 1.7-mile hunk of rock has space observers excited. NASA said anyone with a 230-foot or larger radar telescope will be able to see it.

 

"Asteroid 1998 QE2 will be an outstanding radar imaging target … and we expect to obtain a series of high-resolution images that could reveal a wealth of surface features," JET radar astronomer Lance Benner said in the news release.

He said the asteroid presents an opportunity for scientists to study the intricate details of similar space objects, including their size, shape, rotation, surface features and perhaps even origin.

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First discovered in 1998, QE2 won't come this close again for two centuries, NASA said.

It's as large as nine Queen Elizabeth 2 cruise ships, however isn't named after the behemoths. The name was simply drawn from a database.

"It is tremendously exciting to see detailed images of this asteroid for the first time," Benner said in the news release. "With radar we can transform an object from a point of light into a small world with its own unique set of characteristics."

NASA has focused more on large asteroids recently.

In March NASA chief Charles Bolden told the U.S. House that all we could really do in the case of an asteroid on a collision course is pray.

"From the information we have, we don't know of an asteroid that will threaten the population of the United States," he said at the time. "But if it's coming in three weeks, pray."