There are plenty of asteroids out there, and several of them like to tease astronomers by skimming fairly close by our tiny, defenseless planet from time to time. This September is no exception, with a fairly large, 4.4-kilometer (2.7-mile) rocky beast set to zip by us on the very first day of the month.
Dubbed “Florence”, this asteroid will pass at a distance of around 7 million kilometers (4.4 million miles) from Earth tomorrow. Although a close flyby by some measures, this is roughly the same distance as 18 times the gap between the Earth and the Moon.
As pointed out by NASA, Florence is no threat to us. In fact, the most notable thing about it – apart from its strangely delightful name – is its size.
“While many known asteroids have passed by closer to Earth than Florence will on September 1, all of those were estimated to be smaller,” Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement. “Florence is the largest asteroid to pass by our planet this close since the NASA program to detect and track near-Earth asteroids began.”
Discovered in 1981 by an eagled-eyed researcher at the Siding Spring Observatory in Australia, Florence has passed by Earth before. This approach will be the closest since 1890, and it will remain the closest until 2500.
Researchers angling for a closer look at the asteroid will not get a better chance than this. Ground-based radar stations all over the planet are targeting it, hoping to spot very fine surface details as it zips by.
If you’re keen to spot it yourself, small personal telescopes in low-light regions will be able to spot it later this month through to early September, where it will brighten in the night sky through the constellations Piscis Austrinus, Capricornus, Aquarius, and Delphinus.
In any case, it’s good to know NASA is keeping its eye on potential threats to the planet. Although some close encounters slip past their view, a good deal of potential planet-killers are constantly monitored.
Just in case you were wondering, Florence is named after Florence Nightingale, who is widely seen as the progenitor of all modern medicine. Why, you may ask? Absolutely no idea. Answers on a postcard, please.