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Following on from the recent Earth flyby of 2012 DA14, another near Earth object (NEO) asteroid will make a close pass by of our planet at the end of May. At its nearest, the asteroid known as Minor Planet 285263 or 1998 QE2 will come within 3.6 million miles (5.8 million km) or about 15 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon. This irregular shaped piece of space rock is believed to be about 2.7 kilometres (1.7 miles) long; if it were to hit the Earth it would cause catastrophic damage, but rest easy there is absolutely no chance of a collision.

Position of asteroid 1998 QE2 at closest approach to Earth on May 31, 2013 (NASA)

The asteroid close approach is an exciting event for professional astronomers. They plan to use NASA's 70 metre Goldstone dish in California and the 305 m Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico to study the asteroid in some detail. Lance Benner of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said, "It is tremendously exciting to see detailed images of this asteroid for the first time". He added that "whenever an asteroid approaches this closely, it provides an important scientific opportunity to study it in detail to understand its size, shape, rotation, surface features and what they can tell us about its origin."

It's not just professionals who are looking forward to this; although the asteroid won't be visible to the naked eye amateur astronomers with small/medium sized telescopes should be able to spot it. The best time to look is on or around May 31st, the date of closest flyby, when the asteroid will be at its brightest (magnitude ~10.6). However, it won't be bright; 1998 QE2 will still be of the order of 100x fainter than the faintest naked eye stars and beyond the limit of 7x50 or 10x50 binoculars unless used from a dark site. Nether the less, it should be possible to spot the asteroid with a small telescope of around 80mm (3.1-inch) aperture. A 150mm (6-inch) or 200mm (8-inch) scope will make the job much easier.

The chart below shoes the position of 1998 QE2 from May 31 08:00 UT to June 3 00:00 UT.

Finder Chart for Asteroid 285263 (1998 QE2) from May 31, 2013 to June 3, 2013

Finder Chart for Asteroid 285263 (1998 QE2) from May 31, 2013 to June 3, 2013 - pdf format

During this time period the asteroid moves in northeastward direction through the constellation of Libra. The movement will appear leisurely in comparison to 2012 DA14, which literally buzzed across the night sky. Once spotted, it should be relatively easy to follow 1998 QE2 as it slowly weaves its way past the fixed background stars. On May 31 at 08:00 UT it's expected to shine at magnitude 10.9 before peaking at magnitude 10.6 on June 1st and then decreasing slightly to magnitude 10.7 the following day. Please note that at it's brightest the asteroid is still about 25x fainter than the faintest stars shown on above chart.

From temperate northern hemisphere latitudes (e.g. New York 41N, London 51.5N or Madrid 40N) 1998 QE2 is visible low down towards the south just before midnight. Although Libra is a faint constellation, it's bordered to the east by bright distinct Scorpius. Due to its southerly declination around the time of closest approach, the asteroid is better placed for observers in the tropics and southern hemisphere latitudes where it will appear much higher in the sky.

This event provides a great rare opportunity to spot a NEO. The object is within the range of amateur instruments and it's a once in a lifetime event to spot this rock, after the flyby, 1998 QE2, won't pass again this close to the Earth for another two centuries.

1998 QE2 (Asteroid 285263) Data Table

DateTimeRight AscensionDeclinationEstimated MagnitudeDistance from Earth (AU)Constellation
2013-May-2400:0011h 05m 22s-37d 47m 46s12.80.062Antlia
2013-May-2408:0011h 11m 22s-37d 42m 14s12.80.060Centaurus
2013-May-2416:0011h 17m 40s-37d 35m 12s12.70.059Centaurus
2013-May-2500:0011h 24m 18s-37d 26m 27s12.60.057Centaurus
2013-May-2508:0011h 31m 15s-37d 15m 45s12.50.056Centaurus
2013-May-2516:0011h 38m 33s-37d 02m 52s12.40.055Centaurus
2013-May-2600:0011h 46m 12s-36d 47m 30s12.30.053Centaurus
2013-May-2608:0011h 54m 12s-36d 29m 22s12.20.052Centaurus
2013-May-2616:0012h 02m 34s-36d 08m 08s12.10.051Centaurus
2013-May-2700:0012h 11m 17s-35d 43m 27s12.10.049Centaurus
2013-May-2708:0012h 20m 22s-35d 15m 00s12.00.048Hydra
2013-May-2716:0012h 29m 48s-34d 42m 24s11.90.047Centaurus
2013-May-2800:0012h 39m 34s-34d 05m 19s11.80.046Centaurus
2013-May-2808:0012h 49m 39s-33d 23m 25s11.70.045Centaurus
2013-May-2816:0013h 00m 01s-32d 36m 25s11.60.044Centaurus
2013-May-2900:0013h 10m 38s-31d 44m 03s11.50.043Centaurus
2013-May-2908:0013h 21m 29s-30d 46m 09s11.40.042Centaurus
2013-May-2916:0013h 32m 30s-29d 42m 38s11.30.041Hydra
2013-May-3000:0013h 43m 38s-28d 33m 31s11.20.041Hydra
2013-May-3008:0013h 54m 51s-27d 18m 55s11.10.040Hydra
2013-May-3016:0014h 06m 05s-25d 59m 07s11.00.040Hydra
2013-May-3100:0014h 17m 16s-24d 34m 31s10.90.040Hydra
2013-May-3108:0014h 28m 22s-23d 05m 36s10.90.039Libra
2013-May-3116:0014h 39m 19s-21d 33m 02s10.80.039Libra
2013-Jun-0100:0014h 50m 05s-19d 57m 31s10.70.039Libra
2013-Jun-0108:0015h 00m 37s-18d 19m 49s10.60.039Libra
2013-Jun-0116:0015h 10m 53s-16d 40m 47s10.60.039Libra
2013-Jun-0200:0015h 20m 51s-15d 01m 13s10.60.040Libra
2013-Jun-0208:0015h 30m 30s-13d 21m 54s10.60.040Libra
2013-Jun-0216:0015h 39m 48s-11d 43m 34s10.70.041Libra
2013-Jun-0300:0015h 48m 44s-10d 06m 53s10.70.041Libra
2013-Jun-0308:0015h 57m 19s-08d 32m 25s10.80.042Libra
2013-Jun-0316:0016h 05m 33s-07d 00m 38s10.90.043Ophiuchus
2013-Jun-0400:0016h 13m 24s-05d 31m 55s11.00.044Ophiuchus
2013-Jun-0408:0016h 20m 55s-04d 06m 32s11.00.045Ophiuchus
2013-Jun-0416:0016h 28m 04s-02d 44m 42s11.10.046Ophiuchus
2013-Jun-0500:0016h 34m 53s-01d 26m 31s11.10.047Ophiuchus
2013-Jun-0508:0016h 41m 22s-00d 12m 03s11.20.048Ophiuchus
2013-Jun-0516:0016h 47m 33s00d 58m 43s11.20.049Ophiuchus
2013-Jun-0600:0016h 53m 25s02d 05m 50s11.30.050Ophiuchus
2013-Jun-0608:0016h 59m 00s03d 09m 23s11.40.052Ophiuchus
2013-Jun-0616:0017h 04m 19s04d 09m 28s11.50.053Ophiuchus
2013-Jun-0700:0017h 09m 22s05d 06m 14s11.60.055Ophiuchus
2013-Jun-0708:0017h 14m 10s05d 59m 49s11.70.056Ophiuchus
2013-Jun-0716:0017h 18m 44s06d 50m 22s11.80.057Ophiuchus
2013-Jun-0800:0017h 23m 05s07d 38m 02s11.80.059Ophiuchus
2013-Jun-0808:0017h 27m 13s08d 22m 59s11.90.061Ophiuchus
2013-Jun-0816:0017h 31m 09s09d 05m 22s12.00.062Ophiuchus
2013-Jun-0900:0017h 34m 55s09d 45m 19s12.10.064Ophiuchus
2013-Jun-0908:0017h 38m 29s10d 22m 60s12.20.065Ophiuchus
2013-Jun-0916:0017h 41m 54s10d 58m 32s12.20.067Ophiuchus
2013-Jun-1000:0017h 45m 09s11d 32m 03s12.30.069Ophiuchus