Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s an … asteroid? Later today, 2.7-mile-wide Asteroid Florence, a large near-Earth asteroid, will pass safely by our planet at a distance of about 4.4 million miles.
That’s the equivalent of 18 Earth-Moon distance! The encounter is the closest by this asteroid since 1890 and the closest it will ever be until after 2500. Florence will be visible in small telescopes for several nights as it moves through the constellations Piscis Austrinus, Capricornus, Aquarius and Delphinus.
This relatively close encounter provides an opportunity for scientists to study this asteroid up close. Florence is expected to be an excellent target for ground-based radar observations. Radar imaging is planned at NASA’s Goldstone Solar System Radar in California and at the National Science Foundation’s Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. The resulting radar images will show the real size of Florence and also could reveal surface details as small as about 30 feet.
Asteroid Florence was discovered by Schelte “Bobby” Bus at Siding Spring Observatory in Australia in March 1981. It is named in honor of Florence Nightingale, the pioneer of modern nursing.