Giant asteroid to pass closely by Earth

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Astronomer Schelte Bus first discovered 3122 Florence in 1981 from Australia's Sliding Spring Observatory.

Officially designated 3122 Florence, the natural remnant of the formation of the solar system is the largest asteroid to pass so close to our planet since NASA started tracking near-Earth asteroids.

Scientists will be able to use the Arecibo and Goldstone antennae from the Earth's surface to study the asteroid as it makes its close pass, and with its magnitude and movements through the Delphinus, Aquarius, Capricorn and Pisces Austrinus constellations, amateur astronomers may be able to see Florence as well. Florence is among the largest near-Earth asteroids that are several miles in size; measurements from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and NEOWISE mission indicate it's about 2.7 miles (4.4 kilometers) in size.

It will cruise by at a safe distance of 4.4 million miles or about 18 times the distance between the earth and the moon, NASA said. Florence is half the diameter of the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs, but if it ever hit the Earth it would be the worst day in the lives of every living being and for most the last one. The space agency hopes to get an idea of what it looks like up to 30 feet and to get an accurate reading of the asteroid's size and shape. Florence is expected to be an excellent target for ground-based radar observations.

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If scientists were able to spot an asteroid before it crashed into Earth, the public would likely hear from NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office, which is dedicated to spotting and formulating responses to objects that might come in contact with our planet.

The magazine has also created a series of sky charts to help stargazers in North America plot the motion of Florence in the backdrop of other bright stars shining in the sky.

And to prepare for the worst-case scenario, which would usually be clouded skies or telescope malfunctions, observers can also go for the easiest visual alternative - a live webcast.

The magazine also notes that Saturday at 8 p.m. EDT is another flawless time to view the enormous asteroid.