'Beast' Asteroid Captured in Radar Images

Jun 16, 2014 10:49 AM EDT | Jordan Ecarma

NASA scientists have captured spectacular images of the "Beast" asteroid that recently passed by Earth.

Officially named asteroid 2014 HQ124, the Beast will help scientists understand asteroid structure in greater detail and make them more prepared for potential peril in space.

"Say you wanted to send a mission to push on an asteroid," Nolan told NBC News. "It would help a lot to know if it was a pile of gravel or solid rock. And if you're going to mine an asteroid, you'd want to know if you should bring a shovel or some dynamite."

This particular asteroid was discovered late in the game, scientists failing to spot the giant space rock until April 23. While its size indicated that it could devastate whole cities on Earth, scientists were enraptured by the images captured when it passed around 900,000 miles away from our planet.

"These radar observations show that the asteroid is a beauty, not a beast," Alessondra Springmann, a data analyst at the Arecibo Observatory, said Thursday in a news release.

Scientists aren't yet sure how the asteroid formed, but one theory is that two smaller asteroids came together in a "contact binary" to make the Beast, which is about 1,200 feet wide and spins on an axis, according to NBC News.

The space rock would "be catastrophic if it hit the Earth," said asteroid impact expert Mark Boslough of Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, as quoted on Space.com. 

The radar images of the recent flyby were captured by Arecibo's 1,000-foot-wide dish in Puerto Rico and the 230-foot Goldstone DSS-14 antenna in California, NBC News reported. Combining information from both spots allows scientists to benefit from both Goldstone's higher image resolution and Arecibo's greater sensitivity.

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