You Can See an Enormous Asteroid Pass by Earth on Friday Night
With the hysteria and endless hype surrounding last week's solar eclipse fading into the background, you've probably exhausted your excitement for visual phenomena in the sky. But because nature doesn't bother to account for your plans, you'd be remiss to ignore the chance to witness a hulking asteroid that's currently hurtling within a very close distance of Earth.
On Friday, September 1, a massive near-Earth asteroid is primed to pass safely by the blue marble we all call home. While it's poised to remain 4.4 million miles away from terra firma, the space rock will still be visible with a small telescope, reports NASA. In fact, the asteroid in question, first discovered in 1981 by Australian scientists and named "Florence," after Florence Nightingale, will be the biggest asteroid to pass this closely to Earth since NASA began keeping records.
"While many known asteroids have passed by closer to Earth than Florence will on September 1, all of those were estimated to be smaller," Paul Chodas, a NASA scientist at the space agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement. "Florence is the largest asteroid to pass by our planet this close since the NASA program to detect and track near-Earth asteroids began."
Florence is about 2.7 miles (4.4 kilometers) in size, according to measurements from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. And given the asteroid's proximity to Earth, you'll be able to see it with a small telescope as it brightens to its ninth magnitude in late August and early September. Sky and Telescope has also provided a decent blueprint for where to look for Florence on the first couple evenings of September.
For casual stargazers, this is an event you don't want to miss, as the last time Florence came within a viewable distance was 1890. The next time it hurtles back towards our atmosphere, in the year 2500, you probably won't be alive. Suffice it to say that the first evenings of September might provide a nice bit of entertainment until the next eclipse blankets the United States in 2024.