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'Beast' Asteroid Captured in Stunning Images as it Skims by Earth

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Jun 13, 2014 03:52 PM EDT
images of asteroid 2014 HQ124
NASA researchers captured stunning images of the huge near-miss asteroid, dubbed "The Beast," that skimmed past Earth on Sunday. (Photo : NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arecibo Observatory/USRA/NSF)

NASA researchers captured stunning images of the huge near-miss asteroid, dubbed "The Beast," that skimmed past Earth on Sunday.

Officially designated as 2014 HQ124, the asteroid was discovered by NASA's NEOWISE mission, a space telescope adapted for scouting the skies for asteroids and comets, the space agency wrote.

The asteroid passed at a relatively close distance early Sunday, coming within 777,000 miles (1.25 million kilometers) of Earth's atmosphere, or about three times farther away than here to the Moon. Its trek was broadcast live via the Slooh Space Camera.

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Traveling at a speed of 31,000 mph (50,000 km/h) relative to Earth, the space rock flew by safely and never posed a threat of collision with our planet. If a celestial object of such size did slam into Earth, it could potentially do some serious damage.

To create these new images of "The Beast," researchers bounced radio signals at the asteroid from NASA's DSS-14 antenna at Goldstone, Cali. Coupled with photos snapped by the giant William E. Gordon Telescope located at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, the data resulted in some of the most detailed, highest-resolution images ever recorded of a near-Earth asteroid.

It was able to capture features as small as 12 feet (3.75 meters) wide, and indicated that the object likely is made up of two lobes fused together, according to NASA.

"By itself, the Goldstone antenna can obtain images that show features as small as the width of a traffic lane on the highway," said Lance Benner of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. "With Arecibo now able to receive our highest-resolution Goldstone signals, we can create a single system that improves the overall quality of the images."

To date, US assets have discovered more than 98 percent of the known near-Earth objects.

NASA is currently developing a first-ever mission to identify, capture and redirect a near-Earth asteroid to a stable orbit around the Moon. Astronauts aboard an Orion spacecraft are undergoing underwater training before they explore the asteroid in the 2020s.

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