NASA Discovers Moon on Approaching Asteroid

Asteroid will make its closest pass to Earth for at least 200 years.

 This image provided by NASA/JPL-Caltech shows a simulation of asteroid 2012 DA14 approaching from the south as it passes through the Earth-moon system on Friday, Feb. 15, 2013.

This image provided by NASA/JPL-Caltech shows a simulation of asteroid 2012 DA14 approaching from the south as it passes through the Earth-moon system on Friday, Feb. 15, 2013. The 150-foot object passed within 17,000 miles of the Earth.

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An asteroid nearly two miles wide will pass by Earth Friday and it will bring with it an unexpected guest: Its own 2,000-foot wide moon.

The asteroid, named 1998 QE2, poses no threat to Earth and its closest pass – at 4:59 p.m. EDT - will be approximately 3.6 million miles from the planet.

Originally discovered in 1998 by astronomers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Friday's pass will be this asteroid's closest pass of Earth until May 27, 2221. The asteroid will only be visible to people viewing it through a telescope.

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According to NASA, asteroids with moons aren't unheard of, but astronomers didn't realize until Thursday that 1998 QE2 had one. Approximately 16 percent of asteroids wider than 655 feet have moons.

Friday's asteroid will pass at a distance approximately 15 times longer than that between the Earth and the moon, hardly a close shave considering February's 2012 DA14 asteroid, which passed within 17,000 miles of Earth, closer than some satellites fly. 2012 DA14 was a much smaller asteroid, measuring only about 150 feet wide. Friday's asteroid is believed to be similar in size to the one that caused many species, including dinosaurs, to go extinct about 65 million years ago.

Since February's near miss, some lawmakers have implored NASA to design better asteroid-detecting technology, with Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, calling on Congress to hold a hearing to discuss the potential of an asteroid's damage to Earth.

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"We should continue to invest in systems that identify threatening asteroids and develop contingencies, if needed, to change the course of an asteroid headed toward Earth," Smith said in a statement.

In 2012, NASA's budget for the Near-Earth Object, which is designed to detect asteroids that could pose a threat to mankind, was increased from $6 million to $20 million.

NASA is currently designing a mission that could "lasso" an asteroid and bring it closer to Earth in order to study it. Earlier this month, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said that mission is partially designed to "prepare efforts to prevent an asteroid from colliding with devastating force into our planet."

 

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