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September 01, 2017

Get ready, a 2.7-mile-wide asteroid is careening by Earth this weekend

A 2.7-mile-wide asteroid set to pass Earth this weekend is the largest to pass this close to our planet since NASA began detecting and tracking near-Earth asteroids.

"This close," it should be pointed out, means the fly-by by Florence will occur 4.4 million miles distant from Earth. That's about 18 times the distance between the Earth and Moon, the space agency said.

But this is the nearest that Florence has been since 1890 on its travels through the solar system, according to the agency, and will not come this close again until after the year 2500.

“While many known asteroids have passed by closer to Earth than Florence will on September 1, all of those were estimated to be smaller,” said Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., in a statement.

Amateur astronomers – anyone with a backyard telescope, really – will have the opportunity over the next few nights to peep the fly-by by Florence, which is brightening through early September as it moves through the constellations Piscis Austrinus, Capricornus, Aquarius and Delphinus.

While Florence's peak magnitude came Wednesday, it will be plenty bright enough to spot with great binoculars and decent telescopes through Tuesday, even with a semi-bright Moon in the sky, according to Sky and Telescope.

The asteroid, named for Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, was discovered in Australia in March 1981.