PASADENA, Calif., June 13 (UPI) -- It looks like an abstract modernist sculpture, the kind an auction house might sell for too much money. But it's not; it's an asteroid.
The stunning photographs were captured over the weekend as asteroid 2014 HQ124 whizzed by Earth at upwards of 31,000 mph. Though described as a "near miss" or "near-Earth," the asteroid flew by at a rather safe distance of three lunar distances -- the distance between the Earth and moon, times three.
The photos were snapped by the giant William E. Gordon Telescope located at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. Astronomers were able to gather further detail by pairing the observations from Puerto Rico with data capture by NASA's DSS-14 antenna at Goldstone, California.
They are some of the most detailed, highest-resolution images ever recorded of a near-Earth asteroid.
"By itself, the Goldstone antenna can obtain images that show features as small as the width of a traffic lane on the highway," explained Lance Benner, a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "With Arecibo now able to receive our highest-resolution Goldstone signals, we can create a single system that improves the overall quality of the images."
Though the 1,300-foot asteroid is nicknamed "The Beast," it has been appreciated by astronomers for its aesthetic qualities.
"These radar observations show that the asteroid is a beauty, not a beast," said Alessondra Springmann, a scientist at Arecibo Observatory.