Nasa scientists are getting excited about seeing the QE2 in the hope it will reveal crucial new insights. But it is not Her Majesty's defunct steam liner which is lying in dock in Dubai which has set stargazers in Houston, Texas, agog. The object is an asteroid flying through space which is as big as 19 of the former royal vessel. It measures 1.7 miles in length.
1998 QE2 is set to come close to our world when it flys past in its orbit of the sun, on May 31. Scientists will use the Near Earth Object (NEO) event to help plan for an audacious bid to land on a lump of space rock in four years time as part of asteroid defence planning. Nasa scientist Lance Benner said: Whenever an asteroid approaches this closely, it provides an important scientific opportunity to study it in detail to understand its size, shape, rotation, surface features, and what they can tell us about its origin.

"We will also use new radar measurements of the asteroid's distance and velocity to improve our calculation of its orbit and compute its motion farther into the future than we could otherwise." Earth's upcoming brush with an extra-terrestial object should not contain the risk of causing chaos for us on earth, like the Russian meteor earlier this year. 1998 QE2 shall fly past earth 3.6m miles above our heads. A Nasa spokesman claimed there is no connection between the asteroid and the British royal cruise ship.

1998 QE2's appearance near our planet will be first time in history. At present, scientists have no clue what it shall look like.

They will tracking it using Nasa's enormous Deep Space Network antenna, which is 230-feet wide.

"It is tremendously exciting to see detailed images of this asteroid for the first time.

"With radar we can transform an object from a point of light into a small world with its own unique set of characteristics.

"In a real sense, radar imaging of near-Earth asteroids is a fundamental form of exploring a whole class of solar system objects."