As a giant asteroid dubbed "The Beast" made a close pass by Earth June 8, scientists bounced radar signals off it to generate the most detailed images of such a space rock ever captured, NASA says.
The asteroid, officially 2014 HQ124, was revealed as a potato-shaped object around 1,200 feet in length that spun slowly while it passed the Earth at a distance of 776,000 miles.
That's at just three times the distance of our moon, a rather close call in cosmic terms.
The elongated potato shape provides some clues as to the possible structure of the space rock, NASA scientists said.
"This may be a double object, or "contact binary," consisting of two objects that form a single asteroid with a lobed shape," said Lance Benner of the space agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
During a period of around four hours, ground-based radar instruments captured 21 radar images of the asteroid.
Studying the rotation of the space rock from frame-to-frame in the observations, the scientists have estimated The Beast has a rotation period of a bit less than 24 hours.
The radar images were able to resolve features on the asteroid down to about 12 feet, including a mysterious "pointy" hill near the middle of the cosmic object, they said.
Quick action was needed to make arrangements to capture the radar images since the asteroid was detected only recently by NASA's NEOWISE space telescope, which managed to spot it on April 23.
Radar serves as a powerful scientific tool to analyze both asteroids and comets for shape, size, surface features, rotation and orbits, NASA said, allowing researchers to predict their orbits well into the future.
The asteroid safely passed the Earth, moving at a velocity of 31,000 miles per hour, and there was never a risk of collision.
However, researchers have noted, it an object of such size did impact the Earth the effects could be catastrophic, especially if the impact were near a metropolitan area.
NASA uses both ground- and space-based telescopes in an attempt to detect, track, characterize and monitor comets and asteroids with potential to pass close to the Earth.
Under the space agency's Near-Earth Object Program, often referred to as "Spaceguard," after they are detected their orbits are identified and analyzed for any potential for a risk as a collision hazard.
Spaceguard and other programs have been successful in detecting around 98 percent of the currently known collection of near-Earth objects, NASA says.