Video Transcript: Revealing Asteroids with Radar

1998 QE 2 is going to make a relatively close approach to Earth on May 31st. The orbit for this object is very well known.

It'll be to the south, rising in the southeast setting in the southwest. In late May, especially early June, it'll reach a visual magnitude of about 10-1/2 to 11. And that means that amateur astronomers who have 4- or 6-inch telescopes could potentially see it.

It is going to come within 15 lunar distances.

About 15 times the distance between the Earth and the moon Although it is labeled as a potentially-hazardous asteroid, what that really means is that its orbit can approach within a certain distance of the Earth's orbit.

For the foreseeable future there's nothing to worry about. I mean, it's far more dangerous to walk across the street.

The asteroid is believed to be about 1.7 miles in diameter. That is about 9 QE2 cruise ships end to end.

It rotates within 5.3 hours and we know it's likely rounded.

Even the most powerful optical telescopes and I'm talking even, you know, Hubble telescope, they can only see this asteroid as a point of light. It is just too far and too small.

Radar is a very powerful instrument that we use to study near Earth asteroids Asteroid Toutatis was millions of kilometers away and we were able to resolve surface rocks, we could see boulders.

There are currently only two radar facilities in the world that have sufficient sensitivity for doing regular observations of near Earth objects: Arecibo and Goldstone.

It provides an extraordinary opportunity to get very detailed radar images. You are transmitting microwaves propagating at the speed of light towards the asteroid. It is bouncing back. And this radar echo is containing surface features of the asteroid, it's telling us about its rotation and it's very precisely pinpointing its distance from the radar.

This is a great opportunity because instead of sending a spacecraft to an asteroid, you are on Earth and an asteroid is coming to you.

We think we're going to see images that'll rival the caliber of what we can get from a spacecraft flyby mission. They really should be that detailed, and opportunities like that, they sometimes happen a few times a year but this is the best one we know of in 2013.