Named after the son of the Greek sun god Helios ‘Phaethon’, this giant piece of rock will pass Earth just before Christmas on December 17.
Asteroid 3200 Phaethon is huge! It’s about a three-mile-wide, making it about half the size of Chicxulub, the rock which wiped out the dinosaurs. It’s a tiny object in galactic terms, but to us here, on this planet it’s a huge, dangerous piece of rock.
Giant Asteroid 3200 Phaethon Passes Earth Just Before Christmas – The Dangerous Space Rock Is 3-Mile-Wide
It’s expected the asteroid will cause the beautiful Geminids meteor shower which will take place between December 13 and 14. If we are lucky we will be able to see hundreds of bright meteors to illuminate the night sky as they burn up in Earth’s atmosphere, but make no mistake about – this asteroid is dangerous.
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NASA has previously described as a ‘potentially hazardous asteroid’, will pass 6.4 million miles (10.3m km) from Earth – relatively close in space terms.
Russian astronomers at the Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University in Konigsberg are currently tracking the path of 3200 Phaethon.
Its unusual orbit will see it pass closer to the sun than any other named asteroid.
In a statement, the University wrote: “Apparently, this asteroid was once a much bigger object, but its many approaches to the Sun have caused it to crumble into smaller pieces which eventually formed this meteor shower.
If so, the asteroid itself could be the residue of a comet nucleus. The asteroid’s extremely elongated orbit, thanks to which it sometimes gets to the Sun closer than Mercury and it sometimes moves away farther than Mars, is another argument in favor of this theory.”
The name of the asteroid is quite suitable but let’s hope things do not end up as they did in myths.
Ancient myths tell how Phaethon was an insecure young god who was challenged to prove he was related to Helios. In order to do so he had to pull the Sun across the sky. Phaethon used his father’s chariot, but was unable to control the horses, who then ran wild across the sky dragging the hot sun with them. Earth was almost destroyed in the ensuing chaos, which scorched the planet, burned vast amounts of vegetation and created the great deserts of Africa.
The Earth was only spared when Zeus blasted the horses with a thunderbolt, killing Phaethon in the process.
Hopefully, the passing of 3200 Phaethon will not result in a similar scenario, but it’s a dangerous asteroid and astronomers are keep a close eye on its movement.