A huge asteroid known as the 322 Phaethon, which is three miles in length, will be making an extremely close approach to Earth on December 17. This particular asteroid is reported to be half the size of Chicxulub, the asteroid that was responsible for wiping dinosaurs off the planet. Owing to its peculiar orbit, the asteroid will also reportedly be heading closer to the sun than any other asteroid.
According to the Metro, NASA has called the 322 Phaethon "a potentially hazardous asteroid." However, despite how close the 322 Phaethon will be to Earth, it will still be 6.4 million miles away. While admittedly quite close in terms of objects in space, its approach won't be anything that could possibly harm the planet in any way.
This asteroid reportedly confounded scientists in the past as it appears to contain attributes of both an asteroid as well as a comet. In fact, in another close encounter with Earth, scientists detected dust emanating from the 322 Phaethon which made the asteroid look as though it had an ice tail, something ordinarily only seen on comets, as the Daily Mail noted.
But due to the orbit of the 322 Phaethon, scientists believe that it originated somewhere between Mars and Jupiter and icy comets usually are formed in much colder regions of space and far beyond the planet Neptune.
The 3200 Phaethon asteroid is also responsible for the beautiful Geminid meteor shower which will light up the night sky on December 13 and 14, according to Space. This particular asteroid was graced with its name which came from the son of the sun god known as Helios.
To prove he was the son of Helios, at one point Phaethon jumped into his father's chariot and raced across the sky so close to the sun that he very nearly destroyed the Earth, and only Zeus' destruction of the chariot, which killed Phaethon, saved our planet. Because of the daring nature of the son of Helios, scientists believed that Phaethon was an apt name to give this asteroid, and even Plato wrote about the Greek legend.
"There have been, and will be again, many destructions of mankind arising out of many causes; the greatest have been brought about by the agencies of fire and water, and other lesser ones by innumerable other causes. There is a story that even you Greeks have preserved, that once upon a time, Phaethon, the son of Helios, having yoked the steeds in his father's chariot, because he was not able to drive them in the path of his father, burnt up all that was upon the earth, and was himself destroyed by a thunderbolt."
Animation of asteroid 3200 Phaethon. Courtesy: @astrobfu pic.twitter.com/jvgazcb1alDespite its already quite large size, Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University have said that the 3200 Phaethon asteroid was actually at one point much, much larger.
— Asteroid Day ☄ (@AsteroidDay) November 18, 2017
"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."On December 17, make sure to look up at the sky and consider the majestic beauty of the universe and all of the objects in it, including the 3200 Phaethon asteroid which will be flying very close to the Earth, just like the son of Helios was once reputed to have done.
[Featured Image by Hulton Archive/Getty Images]