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Giant Asteroid Passes Close To Earth

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An asteroid the size of a mountain just streaked by Earth on the morning of September 1 – a record-breaking phenomenon that has had scientists on the edge of their seats.

Asteroid 3122 Florence, roughly 2.7 miles wide, cruised within only 4.4 million miles from Earth, Space.com reports. This is just 18 times the distance from here to the moon.

Paul Chodas, manager of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said,

Nothing this big has passed this close to Earth since we’ve been tracking. This is a once-in-40-year-event kind of thing.

There have only been around 10 asteroids as big as Florence that have come close to this planet, Chodas said. There was never any danger of the giant rock hitting the Earth on this encounter, and astronomers have determined the asteroid’s path enough to know that it poses no immediate threat for the next few centuries.

If, however, an asteroid of a similar size were to hit this planet, the results would be catastrophic: scientists predict that anything causing an impact greater than 0.6 miles across would mean the end of civilization.

Florence was first discovered by astronomer Schelte “Bobby” Bus in 1981 at Australia’s Siding Spring Observatory. This massive rock orbits the sun every 2.35 years on an elliptical path. It is also a very fast spinner, scientists have observed, completing one rotation every 2.4 hours.

Chodas said, “If it were spinning any faster, it would fly apart. What often happens is, asteroids that are spinning this quickly rearrange into the shape of a top, where they have kind of a bulge at the equator.”

This is just a theory, as there is not much information on Florence – most of what is known are estimates. “There’s a lot to learn about this little world,” Chodas said. Radar images on this recent flyby have revealed more information, as NASA’s Goldstone Solar System Radar in California and the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico were able to get better looks at the asteroid.

The asteroid should be visible on the night sky through a telescope for the next few days.

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