05/18/2013 02:40 am ET

Asteroid 1998 QE2 To Give Earth A Close Shave On May 31 (VIDEO)

A gigantic asteroid will fly by our planet at the end of this month, making its closest approach for at least the next two centuries on May 31. But, don't worry, it won't get closer than about 3.6 million miles, which is around 15 times the distance between Earth and the moon.

Astronomers plan to use radar telescopes to get a good look at the space rock, named Asteroid 1998 QE2, between May 30 and June 9.

"Asteroid 1998 QE2 will be an outstanding radar imaging target at Goldstone and Arecibo [observatories] and we expect to obtain a series of high-resolution images that could reveal a wealth of surface features," radar astronomer Lance Benner, the principal investigator for the Goldstone radar observations from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a written statement.

Astronomers will be able to study the asteroid's size, shape, rotation, and surface features -- all of which could shed light on 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," Benner said in the statement.

The space rock was discovered in 1998 by the MIT Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research program -- and research suggests it's about 1.7 miles long. How big is that? The rock's size has been compared to the Golden Gate Bridge, as well as the length of nine QE2 cruise ships. But, just FYI, the rock was not named after the celebrated ocean liner. Instead, the name was assigned by the Minor Planet Center, which gives each newly discovered asteroid a name.

"It is tremendously exciting to see detailed images of this asteroid for the first time," Benner said in the statement. "With radar we can transform an object from a point of light into a small world with its own unique set of characteristics. In a real sense, radar imaging of near-Earth asteroids is a fundamental form of exploring a whole class of solar system objects."

According to, "NASA leads the global effort to identify potentially dangerous asteroids. Our planet has been pummeled by space rocks throughout its 4.5-billion-year history, and more strikes are in our future."

In fact, in 2016, the agency plans to send a robotic probe to one of the most potentially hazardous asteroids. And NASA recently announced developing a first-ever mission to capture an asteroid for human exploration.

Watch the video above for a look at the orbit of Asteroid 1998 QE2.



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