The Giant Asteroid Passed Near the Earth a Week Ago is Orbited By 2 Small Moons

A week ago, a gigantic piece of rock as big as a mountain and named Florence passed near the Earth about seven million kilometers, or eighteen times the Earth-Moon distance. Recent observations confirm that the asteroid is orbited by two small moons.

Florence is the biggest asteroid ever recorded since the beginning of the regular observations that began in the late 1980s. The 4.4-km-long piece of rock passed on Sept. 1 last, some seven million kilometers from Earth. It was an opportunity for astronomers to observe the object from every angle. This passage is, in fact, the closest since 1890 and the asteroid will not pass as close to the Earth until the year 2,500. Recent observations made since the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in the Mojave desert included state of two small moons gravitating around.


Radar images obtained between August 29 and September 1 (when Florence was closest to Earth) revealed that the first one is a hundred meters in diameter and the second about 300 meters. The inner moon takes about eight hours to turn around Florence while the outer moon puts between 22 and 27 hours. Recall that some 60 asteroids close to the Earth are known to have moons. Florence remains nevertheless the first observed with two moons since the asteroid 1994XM1 discovered in June 2009.

thisnasaillu - The Giant Asteroid Passed Near the Earth a Week Ago is Orbited By 2 Small Moons

This illustration of NASA shows Florence passing 4 million kilometers from Earth last week. The radar images reveal that Florence has two small moons (invisible here) that gravitate around. Credits: NASA

Discovered in 1981, asteroid 3122 was baptized in honor of Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), a British nurse considered a pioneer of modern nursing. Another appointment is also to be expected in a month and a half. According to the European Space Agency, an asteroid the size of a house will indeed touch our planet on October 12 at a distance of 44,000 kilometers. Rest assured, this one also represents no danger to our planet.

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