Bonus Factismal: Asteroid Fly-by

If you are a fan of asteroids or just like to think about what might have killed the dinosaurs (and who doesn’t?), then tomorrow is your day and tonight is your night. Right now, there is an asteroid that is 1.7 miles across and zooming closer and closer to Earth. Even better, the asteroid has a moon that wasn’t discovered until this fly-by! (Remember that asteroid moons are fairly common but still cool. Like fezzes.)

The asteroid 1998 QE2 and its (as yet un-named) moon (Image courtesy NASA)

The asteroid 1998 QE2 and its (as yet unnamed) moon
(Image courtesy NASA)

Known as 1998 QE2 (after the year and the order in which it was discovered), this beauty is about one-ninth as large as the impactor that created the Chicxulub crater and had a role in changing the dinosaurs from the Earth’s dominant species to stars of Saturday morning kid’s television. But it is still large enough to do serious damage if it landed on Earth; if it hit land, it would make a crater 17 miles across and devastate an area about the size of Virginia (the moon is only large enough to destroy DC). Fortunately, neither it nor its moon will be staying. They’ll buzz by and head back out to deep space, not to be seen again for two hundred years.

If you’d like to see the asteroid for yourself during this close encounter of the lithologic kind, then you have two choices. You can pull out a pair of decent binoculars and scan the skies, but you’ll need patience and a bit of luck to see it. Large as it is, the asteroid will still be fainter than the dimmest stars visible with the naked eye. Or you can watch one of the watch parties. NASA and the White House will host a Google hangout tomorrow from 2-3 PM, and the Slooh SpaceCamera will show the approach live.

Good luck!

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