1998 QE2 Asteroid: Mega Asteroid Flying By Earth Has Its Own Moon


Cue Armageddon references for the rest of the day. NASA and the White House are just two of the astronomy geeks that will be watching asteroid 1998 QE2 orbit past Earth today at 4:59pm EST/1:59pm PST. The asteroid's close encounter will provide invaluable insight which would be otherwise unattainable without actually landing on it Bruce Willis style. But this time private companies will also be watching.

1998 QE2, which was discovered in 1998, the same year Armageddon was released, will allow scientists and space miners to analyze its mass and composition. This is important for astronauts' ability to land on asteroids in the future. NASA and private mining expeditions will be able to understand what the asteroid's gravitational pull from this orbit as well.

Preliminary scans using the Deep Space Network antenna have already determined that the asteroid has a smaller moon orbiting around it. This is an exciting rarity for near-Earth objects. "This is information we would not get otherwise, without sending a spacecraft to orbit the thing," says Tim Spahr of the Minor Planet Center at Harvard University.

The asteroid poses no threat to Earth passing at a distance of 3.6 million miles or about 15 times the distance between Earth and the moon. This is 1998 QE2's closest approach to Earth in 200 years. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory will collect high quality scans to analyze the asteroid thoroughly. 

NASA has dedicated a lot of resources to understanding asteroids, but that has become a more pressing issue for private mining companies now as well. PolicyMic's own Nate Abrams discusses the issue of asteroid mining which brings up the legal implications of property rights and liability. Until now NASA's only directive centered around studying asteroids to understand space and protect the Earth from collisions. Private companies are likely to invest far more resources into understanding mineral compositions and extraction techniques.

The White House is moderating a conversation on these issues on its Google+ Page today as the asteroid passes by. It is using the hashtag #WeTheGeeks on Google+ and Twitter and will feature commentary from NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, Planetary Society Executive Director and Science Guy Bill Nye, and private mining company Planetary Resources Co-founder and Co-Chairman Peter Diamandis.

They will be joined by other luminaries in asteroid- and space-exploration addressing "asteroid identification, characterization, resource utilization, and hazard mitigation" according to the White House.

The repercussions of asteroid mining and private space exploration are considerably well imagined through movies and science fiction but we are experiencing the early stages of that fiction turn to reality. Till the time comes that society full accepts multiplanetary human settlements we can still look out with wonder and blissful ignorance at asteroids (and their moons) and listen to Aerosmith.