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Large Asteroid 'Florence' Whizzes By Earth

Early radar images ahead of Asteroid Florence's Earth flyby from Goldstone Observatory. Photo: NASA/JPL
Early radar images ahead of Asteroid Florence's Earth flyby from Goldstone Observatory. Photo: NASA/JPL

A large asteroid will zoom by Earth beginning Thursday night and remain in the sky throughout the weekend. Despite its size, there’s no threat to our planet.

The asteroid named Florence is 2.7 miles in size making it the largest asteroid to pass our planet this close since NASA started tracking near-Earth objects.

“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 in Pasadena, California.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="293"] Asteroid Florence will zoom by earth at a distance of about 4 million miles. Photo: NASA[/caption]

Seminole State College Planetarium Director Derek Demeter said it will pass at a distance of about 4 million miles away making it harmless to us here on Earth.

"There's no reason to worry about it," said Demeter. "That’s the nice thing, you can look at it thought binoculars or a telescope and realize a couple of mile long piece of rock hurdling through space that if it were to hit us it would cause a mass extinction, but thankfully it’s not.

Unlike other astronomical events, like the recent eclipse, these flybys are hard to predict, said Demeter. “This is something that just pops up because we don’t see it for a while, then all of a sudden it gets bright enough to detect it, then we observe it, then it disappears into the darkness.”

The asteroid won’t be visible to the naked eye but if you have a telescope you can see Florence in the southern sky at its highest point around 11 p.m. to midnight throughout the weekend. Demeter said you can spot it just north of the constellation Capricorn.

Florence was discovered in 1981 by Schelte "Bobby" Bus at Siding Spring Observatory in Australia. He named the asteroid after Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing. This flyby is the closest since 1890 and the closest it will ever be until after 2500.

Brendan covers space news for WMFE, everything from rocket launches to the latest scientific discoveries in our universe. He hosts WMFE's weekly radio show and podcast "Are We There Yet?" which explores human space exploration. Brendan is a native Floridian, born and raised in Broward County. He moved to Central Florida in 2005 to attend the University of Central Florida. He began working at WMFE as a college intern where he discovered his love for public radio.