A giant asteroid called 1998 QE2, named after the year it was discovered, is slated to whiz past Earth on May 31, something it won't do again for another 200 years. The asteroid is said to measure in at about 1.7-miles long, and although it will be about 3.6 million miles away from Earth as it passes, the distance is still short enough for space agencies to get detailed images of it, making the event very notable.
Thus far, no one knows what this asteroid looks like, which makes the event rare and exceptional due to the relatively close distance by which it will pass. At such a distance, it is possible for NASA to snap images as detailed as 12-feet across, a remarkable result considering that the space rock will be millions of miles away and is about 2-miles in length/diameter.
Said NASA astronomer Lance Benner: "Whenever an asteroid approaches this closely, it provides an important scientific opportunity to study it in detail to understand its size, shape, rotation, surface features, and what they can tell us about its origin. We will also use new radar measurements of the asteroid’s distance and velocity to improve our calculation of its orbit and compute its motion farther into the future than we could otherwise."
The imaging will be done via the NASA Deep Space Network antenna in California, as well as the Arecibo Observatory located in Puerto Rico. When combined, the information gathered by each telescope will be combined to create as many details about the asteroid as possible, aiding researchers in their efforts to learn about the space rock that has been flying around for quite some time.
While learning about this particular asteroid is interesting enough, the details provided by the images will help provide researchers with information about asteroids in general. Such knowledge is essential for future NASA missions, including one that will involve the redirection of an asteroid, followed by human exploration of it.