8 Flora – parent of the L chondrite family of meteorites

Flora’s spectra indicates that its surface composition is a mixture of silicate, pyroxene, olivine with nickel-iron metal. Flora is considered a good candidate for being the parent body of the L-chondrite meteorites.

Sci-fi fans may remember 8 Flora from The Green Slime (1968), where an orbital perturbation propels the asteroid Flora into a collision course with Earth.

Those familiar with the technique I use with Apple’s ©Keynote as a light table of sorts, understand what is involved. I will briefly go through it. When attempting to observe or identify an asteroid, the ideal situation is multiple night observations and recordings. In that way, one can plot the course of the asteroid through the star field, and then compare the orbital elements one acquires with those known elements of the asteroid of interest. And if a newly discovered asteroid, this is the only sound way to chart it. The quickest and perhaps necessary route in Winter with few observing nights is to acquire multiple images of the asteroid against a known star field with the computed position of the asteroid – as I do here. Many professional star charts will compute the position of asteroids for you, if you are so inclined.

At magnitude = 9.35 tonight, 8 Flora is a large, somewhat bright main-belt asteroid. It is the innermost large asteroid, with dimensions of 136 x 136 x 113 km. No asteroid closer to the Sun has a diameter above 25 km. It rotation period is ~12.5 hours.

Flora was discovered by J. R. Hind on October 18, 1847. It was his second asteroid discovery after 7 Iris. The name Flora was proposed by John Herschel, from the Latin goddess of flowers and gardens.

Flora is the parent body of the Flora family of asteroids, and by far the largest member, comprising about 80% of the total mass of this family. Nevertheless, Flora was almost certainly disrupted by the impacts that formed the family, and is probably a gravitational aggregate of most of the pieces. Flora may be the residual core of an intensely heated, thermally evolved, and magma-differentiated planetesimal which was subsequently disrupted.

So, why do I do this? “What’s the point, Professor Beck?”, as my students at UCF might quip. This is all a type of training…and fun, of course. There are still undiscovered asteroids out there in the main-belt. Why not discover one or two? At least it will keep me off the streets in my retirement. And more, of course. Astronaut Michael Collins noted in a Tweet recently, that the difference between flying in space and on Earth is this: there are fewer places to land in space in a emergency. A great observation. By understanding asteroids, how to “sync” with them so-to-speak, perhaps we can be of aid by increasing the number of landing places in space on asteroids, in case of emergency. Well, what harm is there?

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