The asteroid known as Phaethon flew by Earth on Saturday, December 16, 2017. In doing so, it came very close, in astronomical terms, to our planet. It passed by at its closest at around 23:00 GMT.
Phaeton, the Monster Asteroid that Came Very Close to Earth
The massive space rock, which is 5 km across, came within 10 million kilometers of our planet. Though that may seem like a great distance (indeed, it is greater than the actual size of the Earth), in the immensity of space, this is close enough to be classified as a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid by authorities.
This monster asteroid has a history of such close flybys, too. Phaethon came just about as close back in 1974. It will probably do so again, though not until after 2093, according to estimates.
Phaethon was first detected back in 2007. It has several features that make it notable and of interest to scientists. For one, it is likely the parent body of the Geminid meteor shower, a yearly event which peaked last week.
Most meteor showers are caused by comets. Phaethon is odd, however, in that it exhibits features both of a comet (which are mostly ice and dust, with some rock, and have tails) and of an asteroid (which are made of rock and metal). Some have suggested that it might be the nuclear of a comet.
A third interesting feature about Phaethon is that its orbit brings it closer to the Sun than any other named planetoid. This is why it was titled after a son of Helios, the Sun god from Ancient Greek mythology.
The name is somewhat fitting given its close proximity to Earth, as well. According to legend, Phaethon took out his father’s solar chariot one day and flew so close to the Earth that he almost destroyed it, causing widespread destruction before Zeus intervened.
Hopefully, the astronomical Phaethon will not be following this story in its subsequent trips near our planet.
Image Source: Wikimedia