3122 Florence

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Timelapse made from 9 images, last updated July 4, 2017, 2:19 p.m.


Where is Florence's name from?

Asteroid 3122 Florence, named after Florence Nightingale, was discovered in 1981 at the Siding Spring Observatory in Australia (This is one of the locations LCO has telescopes). Florence Nightingale was an English nurse and hospital reformer. The Florence Nightingale Museum says she transformed nursing into a respectable profession, worked to improve health standards, and inspired the founding of the International Red Cross. The name for the asteroid was chosen by Schelte J. Bus who was also the discoverer of this asteroid.

Florence the asteroid

Florence has been classified as an Amor asteroid which means Florence's orbit comes close to Earth's orbit, but does not cross it. Florence orbits the sun every 2.35 years. Its orbit's eccentricity is 0.42 which means that it is slightly elliptical; an orbit with an eccentricity of zero is perfect circle. Also, Florence's orbit has an inclination of 22 degree compared to Earth's orbit.

Since Florence's orbit comes within 1.02 AU of the Sun and has been determined to be a large asteroid, it has also been classified to be a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid by the Minor Planet Center (1 AU is the average distance from the Earth to the Sun). Florence will be the closest to the Sun and the Earth on September 1st, 2017. It will be approximately 0.047 AU or four million miles from the Earth at this time. It will not be this close again until 2057!

Science with Florence

Florence also has an absolute magnitude of 14.1. The magnitude, or the brightness of the asteroid, can give us a rough measurement of the size of the asteroid. The smaller the number on the absolute magnitude scale the brighter, and possibly larger, the object. From this magnitude, Florence is approximately 4.9 kilometers in diameter which is approximately 3 miles! But because we do not know what the asteroid is made out of and its reflective properties the size of this asteroid is fairly uncertain.

Another piece of information that we can get from the brightness is the rotational period of the Asteroid. We can compare the brightness over time and produce a light curve. From the light curve data of Florence we find the rotational period of 2.36 hours!

Who is also looking at Florence?

Both Arecibo Observatory and Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex are interested in observing Florence when it passes by. Arecibo and Goldstone use radar to perform their observations. In radar observations they send radio waves to the object and receive the echoes that bounce off and return to Earth. In comparison, at LCO, we observe the visible light that comes from objects during our observations. Goldstone reports that they are expecting to receive high-resolution images produced from their radar observations. Goldstone also notes that the rotational period hints at the possibility that Florence may have a companion satellite. The hope is that Arecibo and Goldstone will be able to detect the companion, if there is one, as well as refine the orbital parameters and physical properties.