A three-mile-wide asteroid, known as 3200 Phaethon, will pass by the Earth tomorrow — Dec. 17. Earlier, NASA described it as a “potentially hazardous asteroid,” but now scientists say the “close” encounter isn’t a cause for concern.
Named after Phaethon, the son of the Greek sun god Helios, this giant piece of space rock will pass Earth at a distance of 6.4 million miles, which is relatively close in space terms. The 3200 Phaethon asteroid is roughly half the size of Chicxulub, the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs.
This huge asteroid was the cause of the beautiful Geminids meteor shower that took place between Dec. 13 and 14.
Researchers at the Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University in Konigsberg, Russia, are tracking the path of Phaethon. They have also released a video on it.
In a statement, the university said, “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 closer to the Sun than Mercury and it sometimes moves away farther than Mars, is another argument in favor of this theory.”