Three-mile-wide 'potentially hazardous' asteroid will fly past Earth

Rob Waugh
Geminid meteor shower UK: How to watch as Phaethon asteroid debris lights up Earth’s skies
Geminid meteor shower UK: How to watch as Phaethon asteroid debris lights up Earth’s skies

A three-mile-wide asteroid, named after a Greek demi-God who nearly destroyed Earth, is going to buzz our planet before Christmas.

The object, named 3200 Phaethon will fly past ‘quite close’, Russian astronomers have said – stressing there’s no chance it will actually hit Earth.

Phaethon was a Greek demi-God who borrowed his father, the sun God Helios’s chariot, and nearly burnt the Earth to a cinder, before being killed by Zeus.

NASA classifies it as a ‘potentially hazardous asteroid’, but it will pass 6.4 million miles from Earth on December 17.

The Phaethon asteroid puzzles scientists because it has some features similar to a comet, with a slight ‘tail’ visible on previous passes.

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In a statement, Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal 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 to the Sun closer than Mercury and it sometimes moves away farther than Mars, is another argument in favour of this theory.’

Nasa defines potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs) based on parameters that measure the asteroid’s potential to make threatening close approaches to the Earth.