Watch Giant Asteroid Sail Past Earth Friday—Live

Asteroid 1998 QE2 will make it’s closest approach to Earth on May 31, 2013 Credit: JPL/NASA

Astronomers around the world are gearing up to get their first close-up views of a giant space rock and it’s new-found moon, set to hurtle by Earth Friday, May 31. The flyby will be broadcast live around the world via the web.

Remote controlled telescopes on the Canary Islands, off the coast of West Africa, will cover the asteroid’s closest approach to our planet which occurs at 4:59 p.m. EDT. You can catch the live coverage right here starting at 1:30 p.m. PDT / 4:30 p.m. EDT / 20:30 UTC. (Find out when the broadcast will occur in your time zone.)

Called 1998 QE2, this asteroid is considered a potentially hazardous object because it makes a regular close approach to Earth’s orbit. (Related: “Asteroid Impacts: 10 Biggest Known Hits.”)

QE2 is a true mountain in motion, stretching 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers) across—nine times the length of the 12-deck Queen Elizabeth 2 cruise ship.

Asteroid QE2 is equal in length to 9 Queen Elizabeth cruise-liners.  credit: JPL/NASA
Asteroid QE2 is equal in length to 9 Queen Elizabeth cruise-liners. credit: JPL/NASA

NASA decided to get a jump on things, starting their observations of the asteroid on May 29 using the 230-foot (70-meter) Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California. And astronomers have already made a surprising discovery.

QE2 has been hiding its own moon—about  2,000 feet (600 meters) wide. Considering the hundreds of asteroids out there, NASA says this may not be that uncommon. As many as 16 percent of asteroids are actually part of binary or triplet systems.

From initial radar observations, it turns out the asteroid shows hints of craters, and it may also be tumbling at a slower rate than previously thought.

Luckily for us Earthlings, there is no chance of a collision. The asteroid will pass by on Friday at 4:59 p.m. EDT at a safe distance of 3.6 million miles (5.8 million kilometers)—15 times the distance separating the Earth from the moon. This is the closest approach the asteroid will make to our planet for at least the next two centuries. (Related: “Asteroid to Make Closest Flyby in History.”)

Despite its relative distance from Earth, QE2 will still be visible to backyard telescopes (at least four to six inches in mirror size) as a faint 11th magnitude star (100 times fainter than what the human eye can see) silently  gliding across the southern skies the next few nights.

QE2 will appear to glide across the night sky over the course of many days an will be visible in backyard telescopes.  Credit: JPL/NASA
QE2 will appear to glide across the night sky over the course of several days, and will be visible using backyard telescopes. Credit: JPL/NASA

Unfortunately, the Hubble Space Telescope‘s powerful eye will see pretty much the same thing. So NASA astronomers plan to train two of the world’s most powerful radio telescopes on the asteroid as it makes its closest approach today.

By bouncing radio signals off the tumbling asteroid, they hope to create a detailed map that will reveal information about its rotation, shape, and surface features as small as 12 feet (3.75 meters) across.

“With radar we can transform an object from a point of light into a small world with its own unique set of characteristics,” said Lance Benner, principal investigator for the Goldstone radar observations from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a press statement.

“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.”

Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.
  • Mike

    Are reporters getting stupid our what? The title of this story is past tense. Moron.

  • Paul Felix Schott

    What a view the Space Station will get more then a eye full of C/2012 S1.

    Largest ever seen in the last 200 years or more, Moon Impact Explosion March 17, 2013.

    More small ones Asteroids to Impact, you do not want to be by tall building
    if a big enough one impact the earth most all the tall building if not all will

    Father like son both Archimedes and his Father Phidias the Astronomer were
    well know to all wise men of their day that studied the Heavens Above. Long ago
    Wicked men dried to wipe out Archimedes and his Father Phidias from the History

    More small ones very likely large ones less likely without notice
    with all the eyes looking to the Heavens Above.

    is not to protect Earth from men from Mars.
    It is for all mankind with most
    all Nation in on it to stop if can most all collision with EARTH from a ASTEROID
    IMPACT. It is if you will a AVOIDANCE SHIELD. “N.E.O.S. Near Earth Object

    If only one were to hit or IMPACT EARTH on land get ready for a
    winter you will never forget. The winter from 1883 -1884 KRAKATOA you will think
    was a little pebble, and now the stone comes. Krakatoa was a great mountain till
    it erupted with fire and a blast heard thousands of miles away that cast that
    Great Mountain into the sea. The Shock Waves were felt around the Globe. The sea
    was full of Bodies from the Tsunamis more then 35,000 of them, the sea stayed
    red for weeks. 1884 was a year without a summer as the year 1816 was and many
    world wide Froze to Death from the KRAKATOA Event.

    A Shock Wave was felt in England from a Event
    about 7:15 to 7:20 A.M. Siberia time in the morning in June of the year 1908
    high in the sky above the Forest in the remote wilderness of Tunguska Siberia
    heard an explosion that laid flat more than 800 square miles of the forest with
    all the trees pointing away from the center of the blast with most all the trees
    laying on their side. Some trees that were right below the blast were still
    there looking like telephone poles with no bark or branches left on them.
    This Asteroid did not even hit the Ground and this is known by most as
    the TUNGUSKA EVENT. For all that lived there it was
    WORMWOOD Rev 8:11 the wood became full of worms and the rivers
    water no longer sweet and undrinkable.

    If a Meteor Shower is big enough
    you might think all the Stars are falling from Heaven.

    About one every 100 years makes it into the
    Earth’s Atmosphere big enough for all to take note. Some make it
    to the surface the signs are all over the Planet and Moon from the ones that
    have. Ron Suggs at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center watched the largest ever seen in the last 200 years or more Moon impact explosion March 17, 2013.

    If you need a visual sign of a collided impact
    with a planet look to

    “SHOEMAKER – LEVY 9” July 1994.

    and it was found only a year before in 1993.

    The impacts lasted for hours and some pieces were over a mile in diameter.

    You Need More Look up “PROJECT
    WORMWOOD” Revelations 8: 10 – 11 based on the “TUNGUSKA EVENT” 1908

    MOSCOW Russia is now saying it will use missiles
    to intercept Asteroid if need be.

    Better to be safe then sorry.


    Read the one and only book
    that will really matter the Bible
    While you still can,
    and May our Lord
    GOD Bless all that do so.
    John 14 : 6
    Luke 13 : 27
    Matthew 7 : 20 – 27
    Matthew 12:39
    Matthew 24:3 – 14

    December 2013 the Heavens above COMET “C/2012
    S1”, “ISON”.

    The day will come soon enough when

    ARE. the night side of earth will become day and day will be blinding
    bright. The Bow Shock from the Photo Electric Effect from the Sun’s Solar Wind
    will really be something.

    The sun will be block out from all the space dust.

    Shortly there after you will think the stars are
    falling from the Heavens,

    REV 6:13,

    REV 16:21

    most will be between 60 to 80 pounds that will make it to the ground
    surface. Nonstop 12 to 14 hours at a time for two days.

    Help others in are Lord’s name
    Jesus Christ help bring all to know him while you still can. Three kings that
    were wise men once flowed a star with a long tail 2,000 years ago. That lead
    them to Jesus Christ wise men still look to and hear are Lord Jesus Christ.

    The wicked for thousands of years have tried to
    wipe are LORD from the History Books.


    DECEMBER 24 – 26, 2013




    680 – 685AD


    As it was in Noah’s day nobody would listen to him giving the warning.
    Many thought it was funny till the rain water from the Comet would not stop for days on end.
    Very Sad for many will be sorry.

    Pray for your love ones and lead them to our LORD while you can.

    Matthew 24:37

    The Lord’s Little Helper
    Paul Felix Schott


    The Vaporized tail path after going by the SUN will light up the December skies.

    On November 1-2, 2013 (C/2012 S1) will pass very close in front of Earth Orbit. Remember its tail is Millions of miles long.

    November 28-29, 2013 it will speed up as it rounds the SUN, goes around it.

    November 29-30, 2013 it will be clear of the SUN and glow brighter each day there after.
    If it makes it passed the SUN?

    December 24-26, 2013 it will light the night sky.

    January from the 12 up to the 17 the SUN could be blocked out from the comets long tail of star dust. Even if it does not make it around the SUN.

    Earth will be going right through its tail path in January 14-16, 2014, that (C/2012 S1) took on the way to the SUN.

    Comets have rocks of all sizes, dust, water, ice and gases, most all gets Vaporized to a glowing yellow or white if it passed to close to the SUN. This Glowing mass can be seen for a Billion + miles away. This absorb energy is carried back with the comet in its orbital path some to deep space.

    The Sun can have a effect on a comet like 1986 Halley’s comet that for years we will be having meteor showers from it ETA AQUARID and ORIONID METEOR SHOWER. Meteor Showers can be for a day to weeks long.

  • Paul Felix Schott


    ( C/2013 A1 )

    Discovered on January 3, 2013, by Robert H. McNaught born 1956
    he is more then a Experienced Comet Hunter and well know Astronomer.

    Robert H. McNaught discovered over 50 Comets and very many hundreds of Asteroids.
    Robert H. McNaught discovery of this comet was made with
    one of the more then 10 telescopes on siding Spring Mountain Top
    at 3,822 ft. above sea level
    Schmidt telescope at Siding Spring Observatory
    it is in New South Wales, Australia.

    One of the Most Valuable Scientist and Engineer for NASA and the U.S.A.F.
    and by far the most loved by all that came to know Samuel T. Bedingfield
    was a big fan of Siding Spring Observatory.

    Both of these two have played a big part in the Earth’s (NEO – Near Earth Object).
    Each on the other side of the planet. Opposite side of earth.

  • George

    There are supposedly millions of these minor asteroids floating around in the solar system. I keep hoping that if they examine enough of them, one will turn out to be a defunct alien spacecraft. Not likely, but fun to think about.

  • Edgar butler

    Are we (NASA) able to tag or sample the asteroid as it passes by…..and if not why?

  • Judith (Plummer) Wilkinson

    Will we be able to see the Astroid today May 31st 2013. Being daylight I’m not sure. Probably not. However it is approx. 2 miles across. At times we see the moon and it’s dayligh also. Of course the moon is so much larger.

  • Judith (Plummer) Wilkinson

    Will I be able to see the Astroid today, May 31st 2013. I know it’s daylight but we can see the moon some days. (when it’s light out.) Will it be televised at all, if so what channels. Would you know this. Thankyou. Sincerely, Judith Wilkinson

  • Samuel

    Esto me parece espectacular muy bueno Se las recomiendo

  • Rajkumar Oberoi

    If mars cold be explored our scientists must have found a way to explore this asteroid much in advance than the nearest distance from earth may be they have tried to slow down the asteroid with zero risk factor of its striking earth.

  • Heather Welliver

    It will not be visible to the naked eye. People will need a telescope. I am guessing daylight viewing will be difficult to impossible. I will be watching the broadcast instead as we have a much better chance of seeing it that way.

    • Indeed to glimpse this asteroid in your local night sky you will need at least a 4 to 6 inch telescope and know exactly where to point it. Looking through the eyepiece the asteroid will still look like a faint point of light and its movement in front of the fixed background of stars will only be noticeable over many hours.

      On the other hand, anyone with an internet connection should be able to catch the broadcast from the Canary Islands.

  • Dmitriy S

    as it was stated in the article, since the asteroid is about 100 times fainter than what the human eye can see, you will need a telescope to observe it.

  • mark

    i guess it is the one i saw lately..a strange huge comet fireball with light golden appearance in the sky..i was drinking redhorse while i noticed it..very fast of speed approximately a thousand miles per hour..coincidence this post is redden by me.. nice one..

  • Thomas Hafen

    I’m truly confused it’s size.
    It the picture is says the diameter is 294m but in the text it’s supposed to be 2700m
    That’s quite a discrepancy!
    So which one is it and what size is it’s moon?

    • The measurement in the graphic that shows the QE2 ships end to end refers to the length of the cruise-liner ship itself.

  • Nico Nuñez

    I’m not too sure where exactly to look at. since its my first time catching this on a live webcast(as indicated). i just simply wanna know on what website should i look at.

    • The live feed from the online broadcast of this asteroid flyby will be viewable right here on this page. So make sure you bookmark it.

  • Charley Mays

    No, you will not be able to see it in the daylight; it will not be bright enough by far.

  • George

    The asteroid is approximately three football fields across and is 12 times the distance of the moon. So no Judith you can’t see without a telescope; however, you will be able to a backyard telescope.

  • Emily

    Thomas, in the picture the diameter line is dashed. Each dash is the length of the QE2 ship, 294m, so the asteroid itself is 2700m. They could have made it clearer!

  • Cory Silva

    Yeah info graphic fail…

  • Jeff

    George, read again… It is 1.7 miles across, and it’s “moon” is 2,000 ft across. The 963 ft reference is to the length of the Queen Elizabeth cruise-liner…

    “Asteroid QE2 is equal in length to 9 Queen Elizabeth cruise-liners. credit: JPL/NASA”

  • Dinesh Ravichandran

    Shall we see the LIVE TELECAST here ? or is it available somewhere else in internet, Kindly let me know. excited to see it.


  • Cameron Merelle

    so when will the feed be on this website or if it is not here then where on the internet??? and how possible would it be to see it with the naked eye?

  • Hazem

    will it be visible for the naked eye at night as it passing at 10:30 PM

  • Matt Beha

    I hate to be the grammar cop, but “it’s” means “it is” while “its” refers to possession, meaning the first sentence should say . . . “its new found moon” meaning the moon belong to the asteroid. One would think National Geographic would have higher standards. http://www.collegehumor.com/article/6785190/cavemen

  • Paul Wilson

    And what size is its moon ? Reason why I ask, is that should OUR gravity suffise to pull its moon towards earth, and it strikes. How much damage will it inflict ?

  • Cynthia

    No wonder so many people confuse “its” (possessive) and “it’s” (contraction) – National Geographic gets it wrong in the first sentence.

  • Amanda Bynes

    I hate this stupid asteroid! Hey asteroid, you’re ugly and nobody likes you!!! You should go run yourself into a planet or the sun or another star or something because you were only cool 2,000 years ago. I’m not crazy…you are!!!

  • Gary Toller

    The picture intended to show the former ship (not asteroid) QE2 as 294m long. The asteroid is about 2650m wide and its satellite is 600m wide.

  • Olivia Loveday

    Ah! I am so exited! Thank you so much for broadcasting this!

  • Lenny

    George, your football fields must be huge 🙂 You were probably misled by the photo, which gives the size of the ship QE2 (963 ft long). The asteroid is 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers) across – but still too small to see, even with a backyard telescope.

  • Patrick Ox

    Thank you for your report. I look forward to seeing this event live! I also wanted to applaud you on answering questions from people who did not read your article and were lazy and just asked a questioned that was clearly answered in the article, you are a better man then me.

  • daniel selbe


  • john

    cant see anything
    just hear the sound

  • Nico Nuñez

    instructions please on how to view it… please

  • Danielle Johnson

    Thank you for the show

  • EssenceOfTruth

    How come all these asteroids just whizz past the earth and not the other planets? Do they “know” that humans dwell on this planet?!

  • daniel selbe

    lame didnt even show it? wth

  • Jenny

    Please create an Android app too! Thanks for the great commentary and the live views!

  • James Alejo

    Is it visible to the Philippines ?

  • Melanie Field

    My children and I saw some reddy orange things this evening about 9.30p.m. would this have anything to do with the asteroids. They where like plane vapor trails and there where a few all together, then they would drop away then there where more.

  • Ronald C. Roque

    Why not break it into grains so as not to pose danger in the near future..

  • Science lover

    Is it what our previous ancestors predicted as Niburu??

    They predicted it after 2012 but the Earths rotation and reveloution changed for a few times so what they predicted as Niburu was actually that asteroid even with a satellite or something ??

    Our ancestors were real genius

  • maryjemison

    I love this,,,,

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