NASA: Asteroid comes closest to Earth this afternoon

Duck! Asteroid 1998 QE2 is giving scientists, space buffs a good look as it moves past Earth

There's no fear that a three-kilometer-wide asteroid will hit the earth, but as it gets to its close this afternoon, space buffs are eagerly trying to get a close up view.

The asteroid, dubbed 1998 QE2, will be closest to Earth at 4:59 p.m. EDT today, when it's about 3.6 million miles away. As a point of reference, that's about 15 times the distance between the Earth and moon.

This is the closest the asteroid will be to Earth for at least two centuries, according to NASA.

The 1998 QE2 is drawing so much interest that the White House will host the second in a series of "We the Geeks" Google+ Hangouts to talk about asteroids with Bill Nye the Science Guy, former astronaut Ed Lu and NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver.

The Hangout can be viewed live on WhiteHouse.gov and on the White House Google+ page today at 2 p.m. EDT. People can send in questions and comments, using the hashtag #WeTheGeeks on Twitter and Google+.

After studying the approaching asteroid, NASA reported that its radar imagery showed that it has its own 2,000-foot wide satellite, or moon. The main asteroid is 1.7 miles in diameter.

Over the next week, radar astronomers are expected to do extensive studies of the asteroid using NASA's 230-foot-wide Deep Space Network antenna in Goldstone, Calif., and the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

Radar observations are used to calculate an asteroid's size, shape, rotation and surface features, the space agency said. Radar measurements also give astronomers more accurate indications of the asteroid's orbit far into the future.

NASA has put an increasing focus on tracking near-Earth Asteroids.

In April, NASA said that its proposed $17.7 billion budget for the coming year includes plans to capture and redirect an asteroid into orbit around Earth so astronauts can study it.

NASA said the project will help it learn more about the makeup of asteroids, and by extension help find ways to protect the Earth from devastating collisions.

The plan got quite a bit of attention as it was announced in the weeks after an asteroid entered Earth's atmosphere on Feb. 15, and created a fireball that streaked across the sky and showered an area around Chelyabinsk, Russia, with meteorites.

Early this year, Deep Space Industries, Inc. announced that it is planning to mine near-Earth asteroids.

The company said it expects to launch a fleet of small spacecraft, dubbed Fireflies, in 2015 to take images of some of the thousands of near-Earth asteroids. In 2016, Deep Space Industries said it will launch another round of spacecraft, dubbed Dragonflies, to grab asteroid samples and return them to Earth.

The commercial harvesting of resources from asteroids could begin around 2020, the company said.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

Read more about emerging technologies in Computerworld's Emerging Technologies Topic Center.

This story, "NASA: Asteroid comes closest to Earth this afternoon" was originally published by Computerworld.

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