September 1st is the day that a massive 2.7-mile-wide asteroid dubbed Florence will safely pass the Earth at just 4.4 million miles away. Just in case you were wondering, that's 18x further than the Moon.
Image Credit: Marcelo6366/Pixabay
Citing NASA, this is the largest asteroid to pass Earth this closely since astronomers discovered the first Near-Earth Object (NEO) over 100 years ago.
Florence, in particular, hasn’t been this close to our planet since 1890, and it won’t get this close again until after the year 2500.
"While many known asteroids have passed by closer to Earth than Florence will on September 1st, all of those were estimated to be smaller," said NASA’s Paul Chodas, an expert on NEOs. "Florence is the largest asteroid to pass by our planet this close since the NASA program to detect and track near-Earth asteroids began."
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Large asteroids of this caliber don’t get this close to our planet very often, so this week’s historic event provides a unique opportunity for both astronomers and backyard observers to study the space rock as it approaches.
Most will use ordinary telescopes to peer at Florence, but some astronomers are going balls to the wall to explore the asteroid with high-resolution radar capable of picking up surface details as small as 30 feet across.
While Florence's surface most likely won’t be too exciting, it can tell us more about its formation and history. We can also use these observations to measure the asteroid more accurately, track its rotation rate, and fine-tune its projected trajectory.
The following computer simulations show just how closely Florence will get to Earth:
It should be interesting to learn what findings we will uncover as the event unfolds.