We experienced a pretty close shave this past weekend when asteroid 2014 HQ124 just barely missed Earth. And, boy, it was one ugly monster; it’s no wonder the space rock was dubbed “The Beast.” NASA used Earth-based radar to snap pictures of the asteroid, revealing the kind of dangers that are always lurking in space.
Lead by scientists Marina Brozovic and Lance Benner at NASA JPL, the 21 images were snapped over a four hour period on June 8, when the asteroid was about 864,000 miles from Earth. That’s not really very close when put in the context of how we understand distance, but scientists say in space that’s the equivalent of a near miss. NASA actually included a rather alarming image of just how close The Beast came to Earth, and it’s pretty terrifying.
The images suggest The Beast was about 1,200 feet wide on its long axis, and consisted of two objects that formed a single asteroid—essentially a Frankenstein rock careening through space. What’s particularly impressive about the collection of pictures is that we can see features as small as 12 feet wide; NASA says the sharp images were made possible by linking together two giant radio telescopes to enhance their capabilities. These telescopes essentially send out radio signal toward the asteroid, producing what you see above.
The Beast was actually a recent discovery by NASA—first seen on april 23—so it’s a wonder we even got images of the asteroid at all. But NASA has its eyes on the sky all the time, keeping track of all near-Earth objects, a program that’s been dubbed Spaceguard. According to NASA, U.S. assets have discovered more than 98 percent of the known near-Earth objects, meaning if there was another asteroid like The Beast heading our way, we’d definitely know about it.
In the coming years, NASA has plans to actually capture and study an asteroid, though plans on how to actually achieve that are still up in the air. Hopefully when that happens, it’s not quite as ugly as this guy we’re seeing above.