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Asteroid, nine times bigger than a cruise ship, to zip past Earth on Friday

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    Digital writers

    Friday, May 31, 2013, 9:15 AM -

    An asteroid, which is believed to be about 2.7 km long or about nine times the length of a Queen Elizabeth 2 cruise ship, will sail past Earth on Friday. 

    The asteroid poses no threat of hitting Earth during the flyby, NASA officials assure.

    (Courtesy: NASA)

    (Courtesy: NASA)

    The huge rock, called Asteroid 1998 QE2, will make its closest approach at 4:59 pm ET on Friday, marking the closest approach the asteroid will make to Earth for at least the next two centuries, NASA said. 

    "Although it is labeled as a potentially hazardous asteroid, what that means is its orbit can approach within a certain distance of the Earth's orbit, but for the foreseeable future there's nothing to really worry about," says NASA research scientist Lance Benner. "It's far more dangerous to walk across the street."

    Benner adds that the asteroid will be the perfect radar imaging target to obtain a series of high resolution images. That in turn, can provide more information and an opportunity to study and understand its size, shape, rotation and surface features.

    At closest approach on May 31, the asteroid will be about 5.8 million km from Earth, which is about 15 times farther than the moon.

    (Courtesy: NASA)

    (Courtesy: NASA)

    The asteroid was discovered on August 19, 1998, by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) program near Socorro, New Mexico. 

    Despite size comparisons to the Queen Elizabeth 2 cruise ship, it was not named after the famous 12-deck ocean liner.

    "Instead, the name is assigned by the NASA-supported Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Mass., which gives each newly discovered asteroid a provisional designation starting with the year of first detection, along with an alphanumeric code indicating the half-month it was discovered, and the sequence within that half-month," the NASA website says.

    Officials say it's unlikely that an observer on the ground will be able to spot the asteroid without the help of a specialized telescope. Even still, the asteroid will be 100 times fainter than the dimmest star in the sky.

    "Even the most powerful optical telescopes, I'm talking even Hubble telescopes, they can only see this asteroid as a point of light, it's just too far and too small," says NASA radar scientist, Marina Brozovic.

    Asteroids have been a hot topic since February 15, 2013 when a small asteroid exploded over Russia and another bigger one, 2012 DA14, made a record setting approach to Earth on the same day, missing our planet by just 27,000 km.

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