CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., - A large asteroid that scientists only discovered this month will make a relatively close approach to Earth on Saturday, astronomers say, providing one of the best opportunities in years to gather data about a passing space rock.
The asteroid, estimated to be about 1,300 feet (400 meters) in diameter, will shoot past the planet at 22 miles (35 km) per second at around 1 p.m. (1700 GMT) on Saturday afternoon. Known as 2015 TB145, it will come within about 300,000 miles (480,000 km) of Earth, farther away than the moon but relatively close by cosmic measures.
Astronomers hope to capture radar images and other measurements of the asteroid during the encounter, a rarity for scientists who typically rely on expensive robotic space probes to gather information about such rocky bodies. Scientists expect to learn about the asteroid's shape, dimensions, surface features and other characteristics.
"The close approach of 2015 TB145 ... coupled with its size, suggests it will be one of the best asteroids for radar imaging we'll see for several years," Lance Benner, an astronomer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in an article posted on the US space agency's website.
Aside from pure scientific value, the encounter may help engineers develop better tracking techniques and countermeasures for asteroids that may be on a collision course with Earth.
Small space rocks rain down on Earth constantly, with most disintegrating as they blaze through the atmosphere.
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