A gigantic asteroid will fly past Earth at the end of this month, making its closest approach for at least the next two centuries.
On May 31, asteroid 1998 QE2, believed to be about 2.7 kilometres or nine Queen Elizabeth 2 ship-lengths in size, will sail serenely past Earth, getting no closer than about 5.8 million kilometres, or about 15 times the distance between Earth and the Moon.
"Asteroid 1998 QE2 will be an outstanding radar imaging target at Goldstone and Ario and we expect to obtain a series of high-resolution images that could reveal a wealth of surface features," said radar astronomer Lance Benner, the principal investigator for the Goldstone radar observations from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.
"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," said Mr Benner.
This is the closest approach the asteroid will make to Earth for at least the next two centuries.
Asteroid 1998 QE2 was discovered on August 19, 1998 near Socorro, New Mexico.
Radar images from the Goldstone antenna could resolve features on the asteroid as small as 3.75 metres across, even from 4 million miles away.
"It is tremendously exciting to see detailed images of this asteroid for the first time," said Mr Benner.