Closest Approach Ever By a Large Asteroid Won't End Life on Earth, But Probably Should

By Ryan F. Mandelbaum on at

Oh Florence, we really needed you this month. There’s a petulant species of brainy monkeys that just can’t seem to get along that probably deserves to be completely wiped out in a fiery collision. But there you go, flying right on by.

At three miles wide (4.8 km), Asteroid Florence is a biggie. In fact, it’s the largest asteroid to pass by at such a close distance since NASA began tracking near-Earth asteroids, Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a press release.

The rock, named after Florence Nightingale, by the way, will zoom by Earth on 1 September 2017, getting as close as 4.4 million miles (7 million km) to our pathetic, deserving rock. As a comparison, the Moon is around 239,000 miles away, and Mars is 39 million miles away at its closest. The International Space Station is 250 miles.

Australian scientists first discovered Florence in 1981. This encounter is the closest since 1890, and it won’t come closer until 2500. Maybe Apophis will have destroyed us by then. Fingers crossed!

NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies keeps track of the asteroids and comets that come close to our planet. Scientists study these rocks to help understand the origin and composition of the Solar System. Also, cataloguing the NEOs is important to make sure we can predict if and when the big one will come and send us the way of the dinosaurs. Although I must say, I’m a big fan of surprises.

Anyway, if you have a telescope, you might be able to wave at Florence as she passes by in late August and early September. “[Its] visible magnitude of 9 is really bright,” Rüdiger Jehn, co-manager of the Near Earth Object segment of the European Space Agency’s space situational awareness program told Gizmodo in an email. “Every amateur astronomer will be able to see it.” The asteroid will pass through constellations Piscis Austrinus, Capricornus, Aquarius and Delphinus, according to the NASA press release.

Ah well. [NASA JPL]


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