Asteroid size of 40 football fields to scoot by Earth in September
Asteroid Florence, named after 19th-century English nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale, is on track to pass at a distance of 4.4 million miles (7 million km).
Tipped to be one of the largest asteroids to ever fly by Earth, the wandering space rock last took a similar path back in 1890.
“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, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said.
“Florence is the largest asteroid to pass by our planet this close since the NASA program to detect and track near-Earth asteroids began."
About 2.7 miles (4.4km) in length, approximately the same as 40 soccer fields, Florence will be studied via radar imaging on September 1 by NASA’s Goldstone Solar System center in California.
The US space agency is hoping that radar will successfully reveal the exact size of the asteroid, as well as interesting nooks and crannies on the surface. Excluding a drastic shift in trajectory, the asteroid will not threaten life or critical infrastructure.
It means NASA won’t have to employ its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) concept craft.
The probe by NASA and the European Space Agency is currently being designed to deflect potentially-disastrous objects from smashing into Earth.
Scheduled for a test in 2022, DART will plow into one of the Didymos asteroids in an attempt to knock its trajectory. A grouping of two rocks, Didymos is due to pass Earth at a safe distance between 2022 and 2024.