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Giant Asteroid to Fly Past Earth May 31, NASA Approves Billion Dollar Mission to Probe Asteroid

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May 19, 2013 07:01 PM EDT
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By taking a new look at the early solar system, researchers have developed a theory outlining how biomolecules, considered the building blocks of life, were once able to form inside asteroids. (Photo : REUTERS/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Handout)

An asteroid nearly 2 miles in length, nine times the length of the QE2 cruise ship, is set pass by Earth on May 31, according to NASA scientists.

Asteroid 1998 QE2 will be making the closest approach to Earth for at least the next two centuries. At 4:59 p.m. EDT on May 31, the asteroid will make its closest approach to Earth, NASA said in a statement. The asteroid, which is 1.7 milles long or the size of Golden Gate Bridge, will fly 3.6 million miles past Earth which is around 15 times further from Earth's nearest neighboring body, the moon. However, it won't be visible to the naked eye.

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In a statement released by NASA officials, the asteroid is described as, nine times larger than a cruise ship, and would require a telescope with a lens at least 230 feet wide to view from Earth. NASA will be using two 230-foot radar scopes to view the flyby.

Asteroid 1998 QE2 is unique. It is covered in a black soot-like substance that has scientists pondering where this rock came from. According to a NASA theory, the asteroid is a former comet that passed a little too close to the sun. It literally was charred by the sun's heat.

"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.

Meanwhile, NASA also announced today it is now actively seeking an asteroid out. The space agency announced this week its approval of a billion-dollar mission to send a space probe to an asteroid and back.

The OSIRIS-REx mission, as it is called, is under development by scientists from the University of Arizona in conjunction with partners at Lockheed Martin and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. The project reached a critical milestone Wednesday when NASA officials confirmed its passage through Key Decision Point-C, or KDP-C, an administrative review point that clears it for final development and deployment.

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