A mountain-size space stone cruised past Earth this morning (Sept. 1) in a record-breaking confront that has prolonged had scientists drooling.
At 8:06 a.m. EDT (1206 GMT) today, a roughly 2.7-mile-wide (4.4 kilometers) asteroid 3122 Florence came within a small 4.4 million miles (7 million km) of Earth — usually 18 times a stretch from a universe to a moon.
“Nothing this large has upheld this tighten to Earth given we’ve been tracking,” Paul Chodas, manager of a Center for Near-Earth Object Studies during NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, told Space.com. “This is a once-in-40-year-event kind of thing.” [Famous Asteroid Rock Flybys and Close Calls (Infographic)]
Only 10 or so asteroids as large as Florence exist in near-Earth space, Chodas said. There was never any possibility of a space stone attack us on this encounter, and astronomers have mapped out Florence’s circuit good adequate to know that it poses no hazard to Earth for a subsequent few centuries during least, he stressed. (But if something as large as Florence did strike us, it would be really bad: Scientists courtesy any impactor during slightest 0.6 miles, or 1 km, opposite as a potential civilization-ender.)
Florence was detected by astronomer Schelte “Bobby” Bus in 1981 during Australia’s Siding Spring Observatory. The space stone loops around a object each 2.35 years on an elliptical path, removing as tighten to a star as 1 astronomical section (AU) and as distant divided as 2.5 AU. (One AU is a normal Earth-sun stretch — about 93 million miles, or 150 million km.)
Astronomers have also dynamic that Florence is a superfast spinner, completing one revolution each 2.4 hours.
“If it were spinning any faster, it would fly apart,” Chodas said. “What mostly happens is, asteroids that are spinning this fast file into a figure of a top, where they have kind of a gush during a equator.”
But that’s usually an deduction in Florence’s case; a asteroid’s figure isn’t famous for certain. Indeed, not most about Florence is. For example, astronomers don’t know if a space stone has a moon. And a 2.7-mile stretch estimate, that is formed on infrared observations by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and NEOWISE mission, is usually that — an estimate. It could change once researchers get some improved observations, Chodas said.
“There’s a lot to learn about this small world,” he said.
Which brings us behind to today’s flyby. Florence has come tighten adequate on this confront — 8 times closer to Earth than it’s ever been given a 1981 discovery, Chodas pronounced — to be pinged by radar, and scientists are holding full advantage of a opportunity. They’ve been regulating absolute comforts such as NASA’s Goldstone Solar System Radar in California and a Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico to get a first-ever good looks during Florence.
The radar images should exhibit Florence’s loyal stretch and shape. They might even grasp 10-foot (3 meters) resolution, permitting aspect facilities such as boulders and craters to be spotted, Chodas said. Optical telescopes around a universe have been lerned on Florence as well, entertainment other forms of information that will serve strength out researchers’ bargain of a asteroid, he added. [In Photos: Potentially Dangerous Asteroids]
This flyby is like a space goal to an asteroid, “but a asteroid is entrance to us,” Chodas said.
Astronomers aren’t a usually ones who can get looks during Florence right now; a asteroid should be manifest by backyard telescopes for a subsequent few days. You can review about how to see asteroid Florence in telescopes here.
Editor’s Note: If we constraint a good picture of asteroid Florence relocating opposite a sky and would like to share it with Space.com and a news partners, send photos and comments to email@example.com.