Space

3-mile asteroid is the largest Earth-buzzing object NASA's ever seen

3-mile asteroid is the largest...
Measuring 4.4 km (2.7 miles) across, asteroid Florence will zip past Earth in September, making it the largest near-Earth object to ever come this close
Measuring 4.4 km (2.7 miles) across, asteroid Florence will zip past Earth in September, making it the largest near-Earth object to ever come this close
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Measuring 4.4 km (2.7 miles) across, asteroid Florence will zip past Earth in September, making it the largest near-Earth object to ever come this close
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Measuring 4.4 km (2.7 miles) across, asteroid Florence will zip past Earth in September, making it the largest near-Earth object to ever come this close
Florence will fly past Earth at a distance of 7 million km (4.4 million miles), or 18 times the distance between Earth and the Moon
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Florence will fly past Earth at a distance of 7 million km (4.4 million miles), or 18 times the distance between Earth and the Moon

Asteroids whizz past Earth on a regular basis, and thankfully they're usually only a few meters wide. But next month we're due for a close encounter with a monster space rock measuring 4.4 km (2.7 mi) across, making it the largest near-Earth object (NEO) to come this close to the planet since NASA began tracking them almost 20 years ago.

NASA and other agencies began tracking potentially hazardous objects in 1998, in order to give us enough warning to send up Bruce Willis (or a pair of orbit-altering probes). Since then, over 16,000 NEOs have been spotted, and although none have been found to be on a collision course, it's best to be prepared: as the 20-m (66-ft) Chelyabinsk meteor demonstrated in 2013, even a relatively small rock can wreak havoc.

But it's the really big ones that we need to keep a close eye on. Anything larger than 1 km (0.6 mi) could trigger planet-wide, life-extinguishing chaos, and by NASA's most recent count, there are over 880 of these monsters zipping around our neighborhood. At 4.4 km in size, asteroid Florence is one of the biggest, and if it were ever to crash into Earth it would be a swift Game Over for humanity.

Luckily, although it's about to make its closest pass on record, NASA says there's no chance of a collision this time, or at any point in at least the next 500 years. Florence will whip past on September 1 at a distance of 7 million km (4.4 million mi), or about 18 times the distance between Earth and the Moon.

Florence will fly past Earth at a distance of 7 million km (4.4 million miles), or 18 times the distance between Earth and the Moon
Florence will fly past Earth at a distance of 7 million km (4.4 million miles), or 18 times the distance between Earth and the Moon

"While many known asteroids have passed by closer to Earth than Florence will on September 1, all of those were estimated to be smaller," says Paul Chodas, manager of NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS). "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 will be visible to small telescopes for a few nights in late August and early September, and astronomers are planning to use the opportunity to observe the asteroid more closely. The Goldstone Solar System Radar in California and the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico will both be used to capture radar images of Florence to get a more accurate reading of its size and surface details, down to a scale of about 10 m (30 ft).

Earth is in for a far closer shave in October, as asteroid 2012 TC4 brushes past within 50,100 km (31,130 mi) or just 0.13 lunar distances. But this rock is much smaller, measuring only 15 m (49 ft) across.

Source: NASA

9 comments
VincentWolf
Were doomed. Eventually anyway. No species is immortal.
Brian M
@Vincentwolf As of course the rest of the universe - thankfully there is probably a few more out there (universes) as well, provided it really is a multiverse universe.....
Douglas Bennett Rogers
It might be possible to convert one of these into an interstellar space ship. All that is needed is to match the orbit of the asteroid with a relatively small amount of material and personnel. This reminds me of an old "Star Trek" episode, "The World is Hollow, and I Have Touched the Sky".
The Bishop of D
Take the long view. It doesn't matter if it will take decades, but this asteroid should be captured and moved into low earth orbit. It is a perfect opportunity to acquire valuable scientific knowledge and raw materials. The asteroid probably contains enough resources to bootstrap orbital manufacturing facilities by decades. There will be enough refining slag left over to build the hulls of dozens, if not hundreds of orbital facilities (and, if you take the really long view, hulls of interstellar vessels). Remember that, relative to the surface of the earth, once you're in earth orbit you're 90% of the way to anywhere else in the solar system (at least in terms of energy requirements).
Douglas E Knapp
We are only doomed, if we all stay on this one rock. Were are quite close to settling Mars with the help of SpaceX and its kin. We also could have space based cities, if we put our collective hearts to it.
Buellrider
I can understand that we need to reach for the stars but we should also have the collective will to reduce our population through attrition and bring the earth back to the garden of Eden it once was. Humans seem to just go along with the idea that this earth is here to exploit and all our pollution problems are just inevitable and so nothing can be done about it. It probably will take an asteroid hitting earth to reset the clock on our planet. Maybe it is a foregone conclusion to everything, certainly would serve us right.
Kpar
I think it likely, if we ever truly become a space-faring species, that we may abandon planets altogether. There is plenty of everything we need out in the asteroid belt and/or the Kuiper belt. From there, an interstellar voyage will not differ from simply living within the Sol system.
mike_edward
I am really wondering at what point other nations will chip in for the "meteor-towing/pushing fund", because currently there doesn't seem to be a lot of concern about having a system already in place. There is no reason we shouldn't have already had a series of 'rockets at the ready' not unlike our nuclear ICBMs aimed at each other. That 'little rock' that blew into Russia was completely a surprise, as it came from a telescope-blinding direction of the sun and nobody noticed it. There should be telescopes with filters pointing toward the sun at all times just because of this. The 20 meter rock injured 1,500, as well as thousands of buildings being damaged from the air shock wave it created; it wasn't in impact meteor. If (no--when) we get hit out of left field again by something even bigger and 10s of thousands are injured, we will only have ourselves to blame. Hopefully we can get something worthwhile up and running in the next few years instead of currently--nothing at all.
CharlieSeattle
Put nukes on it, with a timer, that will blow it up when it farthest away.