SAAO - South African Astronomical Observatory
30.05.2013 13:20 Age: 4 yrs
Category: SAAO Press Releases
By: Dr Nicola Loaring

SAAO to capture live footage of Asteroid 1998 QE2 as it makes a close flyby to Earth


On May 31, 2013, asteroid 1998 QE2 will pass by Earth, at a distance no closer than about 5.8 million kilometers, or about 15 times the distance between Earth and the Moon. The asteroid, which was discovered on the 19th August 1998, by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) programme in the US,  is thought to be about 2.7 kilometers long. It is not a threat to Earth however, as astronomers are certain that the asteroid will pass by rather uneventfully. Although the asteroid will not be visible with the naked eye as it will be too faint, it will be visible using a small telecope.

Professional radar astronomers in particular, are eagerly looking forward to the flyby as it will provide them with a chance to study the asteroid in detail using radio telescopes. Astronomers are planning to use images from the largest radio dish in the world, the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico which has a diameter of 305 metres! They will also be using images from NASA's 70 metre Deep Space Network radio dish at Goldstone Observatory in  California. Using these telescopes astronomers will be able to  resolve features on the asteroid as small as 3.75 metres across, even from 6 million kilometers away! 

"Whenever an asteroid approaches this closely, it provides an important scientific opportunity to study it in detail to understand its size, shape, rotation, surface features, and what they can tell us about 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." said radar astronomer Lance Benner, the principal investigator for the Goldstone radar observations from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, US.

The time of closest approach is 31st May at 22:59 SAST (20:59 UTC) and this flyby is the closest that the asteroid will get to Earth for at least the next two hundred years. As part of their outreach efforts, the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) will be will be using their 20 inch telescope to capture images of the asteroid as it approaches Earth on the 30th May, and will be streaming these live over the internet between 19:30 - 20:30 SAST  (weather permitting). The live stream can be accessed at the website http://asteroidflyby.saao.ac.za. The stream is timed to co-ordinate with NASA's online outreach activities.

The SAAO's live feed  will be broadcast as part of a NASA TV show accessible online at  http://www.nasa.gov/ntv and will also be available on Ustream.tv with live chat capability at http://www.ustream.tv/nasajpl2. The show will feature a discussion with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, experts from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex and SAAO's Outreach Astronomer Nicola Loaring. Viewers can submit questions in advance to NASA to @AsteroidWatch on Twitter with the hashtag #asteroidQE2.

Live stream website at SAAO:
http://asteroidflyby.saao.ac.za/

NASA TV  and Ustream TV channel:
http://www.nasa.gov/ntv
http://www.ustream.tv/nasajpl2

More information about asteroids and near-Earth objects is available at:
http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/

http://www.nasa.gov/images/content/748843main_asteroid20130514-full.jpg
contains an image showing the path of the asteroid in relation to the Earth and inner planets.

SAAO Contact:
Dr Nicola Loaring
nsl(at)saao.ac.za
021 447 0025
0766118720
Please note that Nicola will be unavailable for comment between 5pm-9pm on the 30th and 10am-4pm on the 31st due to operations and travelling.