Passing asteroid 1998 QE2 has a traveling companion!

Scott Sutherland

Astronomers have been watching asteroid 1998 QE2 as it makes its close fly by the Earth today, and radar imagery of the space-traveler has revealed that it has a tiny companion flying along with it!

As the video shows, the bright object is a small 'moon' orbiting around 1998 QE2 as the asteroid makes its journey around the Sun.

[ Related: Massive asteroid makes closest pass by Earth today ]

This isn't the only large asteroid we know of that has a natural satellite. As of May 18th, 2013, there are 230 known asteroids (231 as of now!) that have one more more 'moons' orbiting them.

One of the most famous, now, is asteroid 243 Ida — a 54 km-long rock that traces a roughly circular orbit between Mars and Jupiter. Ida was discovered nearly 130 years ago by Austrian astronomer Johann Palisa, but it wasn't until February of 1994 — when the Galileo spacecraft flew by Ida on its way to Jupiter — that we discovered tiny Dactyl orbiting around it. Although we apparently had some evidence of asteroid moons before this, Dactyl was the first direct confirmation of one.

[ More Geekquinox: Curiosity rover reveals new challenge for Mars travelers ]

Astronomers will continue to take radar and optical images of 1998 QE2 as it passes by, and since the asteroid is pacing us for a few days, they should get plenty of observations of it. What they see and record will help them determine its mass and density, which will help us not only to understand these objects better, but also help with the plans to tow one back to Earth and defend ourselves against any of these space rocks that might pose a threat to us in the future.

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