On December 16, the asteroid 3200 Phaethon, a ‘potentially hazardous asteroid’ will be at its very closest to Earth, passing only 6.2 million miles away from our little blue planet. Don’t worry though, the asteroid is still completely safe and if the conditions are right you might even catch glimpse of it passing by Saturday night.
3200 Phaethon is a three-mile long asteroid that roams the Milky Way, and comes past Earth every 1.4 years. The asteroid is also responsible for the Geminid meteor shower, which some stargazers were lucky enough to catch earlier in the week. The asteroid is classified as a potentially hazardous asteroid by NASA due to how close it comes to Earth; 6.2 million miles away from Earth is actually only two million miles away from Earth’s orbit. In addition, the asteroid is about half the size of the asteroid that may have wiped out the dinosaurs. Still, there’s no need to fear as the asteroid will not come close enough to earth to cause any concern.
Related: Giant Asteroid To Shave Earth's Orbit Next Month:Here's Why NASA Labels It 'Potentially Hazardous'
"This 'potential' to make close Earth approaches does not mean a PHA will impact the Earth. It only means there is a possibility for such a threat," NASA explained on its website.
Although too dim to be seen by the naked eye, you may be able to see the asteroid with a telescope, NASA suggests. The asteroid will be visible in the night sky for weeks, but ABC News reports that the best time to see it will be at 6:00 pm Eastern Time on Saturday night.
Earth is not the only celestial giant in our solar system that 3200 Phaethon comes to visit. It also passes extremely close to the sun itself. For this reason, the asteroid is named after the son of the Greek sun god Helio.
What makes 3200 Phaethon so so special is that it is the only asteroid to cause a meteor shower, NASA reported, a finding that continues to puzzle scientists. Usually meteor showers originate from comets. In addition, the asteroid itself is a source of much confusion, as scientists are still not entirely sure if the space rock truly fits into this classification. Another suggestion is that 3200 Phaethon is a dead comet, but other theories posit that 3200 Phaethon collided with another object in space thousands of years ago, and the yearly Geminid meteor shower we see here on earth is caused by debris from this ancient collision.
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