Our planet has had countless encounters with asteroids over the years, however, the one that is happening this Friday is completely unique. “Why?” I hear you ask. It is because the asteroid passing by is a staggering three miles wide
and has the potential to irrevocably change life on Earth.
Dubbed ‘Florence’ after the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), this incredible asteroid was first spotted by the Research School of Astronomy & Astrophysics (RSAA) in Australia all the way back in March 1981.
The monumental find was made by Schelte “Bobby” Bus at the Siding Spring Observatory, and space organizations worldwide have been tracking it ever since.
Florence will be visible in the US from late August to early September, but she will be closest on September 1. This is a once-in-a-lifetime event as this colossal asteroid hasn’t been this close since 1890, and will never come this close to our planet again until 2500 AD. This is what NASA had to say about an asteroid this big coming so close…
“While many known asteroids have passed by closer to Earth than Florence will on September 1, all of those were estimated to be smaller,” said Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“Florence is the largest asteroid to pass by our planet this close since the NASA program to detect and track near-Earth asteroids began.”
Whilst Florence’s size is terrifying, NASA have said that there is absolutely no risk of a collision with Earth. The diagram below illustrates the path Florence will be taking through our solar system and how incredibly close she will get to our planet.
However, it will definitely be worth dusting off your old telescope that you got for Christmas 10 years ago, as Astroid Florence is expected to be an excellent target for ground-based radar observations, and will be visible to all you amateur astronomers out there.
Amazingly, the radar images that will be taken by professional astronomers on Earth will be able to reveal details of the surface of the astroid by as small as about 30 feet.
Florence will pass by Earth at a distance of 4.4 million miles. To put that in context, that’s 18 times the distance between Earth and the moon. So don’t worry about building a blast shelter or reinforcing your basement. (Although, with Kim Jong-un still in charge of North Korea, maybe you should… Just in case.)
It was revealed in 2016 that if a 0.6-mile-wide (1 km) asteroid collided with our planet an ice age would occur, so you can imagine the damage that an asteroid five times that size would cause. But we can take some small comfort in the knowledge that an asteroid would have to be six miles wide to wipe out life on Earth completely!