Asteroid whizzing past Earth had a baby moon!
The asteroid that zipped past the Earth at nearly 6 million kilometers from the surface was not a lone traveler. Nasa researchers tracking it with their giant Deep Space Network antennae in California have found that the heavenly body has a tiny moon in tow!
While the asteroid 1998 QE2 is about 2.7 kilometers in diameter, its newly found moon that orbits it is just 600 metres wide. Together, they form a ‘binary’ system, uncommon but not unknown to space watchers. About 16 per cent of asteroids with diameters 200 meters or more are binary or even triple systems, a Nasa statement said.
In astronomical terms, the asteroid had come quite ‘close’ to Earth, even at 5.8 million kilometers. At this distance, scientists were able to use the radar to track the incoming body.
This was especially needed because the asteroid 1998 QE2 was covered with a sooty black substance making it very dim to locate in a sky crowded with space debris. Radar observations, led by scientist marina Brozovic of NASA’s Jet Propulsion laboratory, Pasadena, California, showed a bright ‘moon’ against the dark surface of the asteroid.
The closest approach of the asteroid occurred on 1 June at 4:29 am IST (31 May at 4:59 pm EST). This is the closest approach the asteroid will make to Earth for at least the next two centuries. Asteroid 1998 QE2 was discovered on 19 August, 1998, by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR).