Just days after the total solar eclipse, another astronomical display in the shape of the Florence asteroid will be flying past Earth. On September 1, the largest tracked asteroid will be giving astronomers another reason to gaze longingly up at our skies. This chunk of rock measures 2.7 miles and is the largest object to come so close to us since the Near Earth Observations program by NASA was set up in 1998.
There is no need to panic about the Florence asteroid, however. While close, it is still a whopping 18 times the distance between the moon and Earth and will be approximately 4.4 million miles away from us when observed. What astronomers find so exciting about this particular asteroid is the fact that it hasn’t been this close to Earth since 1890 and the next time you will be able to spot it so close in the skies won’t be until the year 2500.
The man responsible for discovering the Florence asteroid is Schelte Bus from Australia’s Siding Spring Observatory, according to Science Alert. Schelte noticed the massive rock in space in 1981 and lovingly bestowed upon it the name of Florence Nightingale. Those working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are particularly excited about the rare occurrence of the Florence asteroid, especially as it will allow them to examine it thoroughly, as Forbes reports.
NASA’s Paul Chodas explained that what is most tantalizing to astronomers about the Florence asteroid is its sheer size in relation to how close it will be flying past Earth when compared with other much smaller asteroids.
“While many known asteroids have passed by closer to Earth than Florence will on September 1, all of those were estimated to be smaller. Florence is the largest asteroid to pass by our planet this close since the NASA program to detect and track near-Earth asteroids began.”
This 2.7-mile-long, near-Earth object will give astronomers a chance to study the asteroid up close. https://t.co/QCTZ3tgJaf
— Smithsonian Magazine (@SmithsonianMag) August 23, 2017
In order to properly analyze the Florence asteroid, astronomers at NASA plan to use ground-based radar so that they can image it as it whizzes past Earth. The two main spots this will be conducted at will be the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico and the Goldstone Solar System Radar in California.
The reason radar will be used is because astronomers will be able to detect and study the tiny details on the surface of the Florence asteroid and the radar will give them an extremely close resolution of around 30 feet. In this way, the asteroid’s size, general morphology, rotation, shape, and surface features can all be investigated.
For amateur astronomers interested in observing the Florence asteroid, simply get a small telescope ready and prepare to be amazed for several nights.
[Featured Image by Hulton Archive/Getty Images]