A gigantic asteroid stretching three miles in diameter is passing frighteningly close to Earth, although we're safe from it hitting us.
A “potentially hazardous” asteroid stretching three miles wide is headed toward Earth, but fortunately there’s no danger of it hitting us when it reaches its closest point on Dec. 16. Named 3200 Phaethon and first spotted back in 2007, it will zoom within 6.5 million miles of Earth, or about 27 times the distance between the Earth and the moon.
That may sound like a lot of distance, but it’s tiny in space terms, and it’s still a bit scary considering just how huge the asteroid is. At three miles wide, it dwarfs the meteor that caused the Tunguska event in Russia in 1908 that flattened 2,000 square kilometers of forest. That meteor was at most about 600 feet wide.
Scientists will take advantage of the close flyby to create a 3D model of 3200 Phaethon. It has an irregular shape, and it could help scientists better understand the composition and behavior of asteroids like it. They think it may have come from the Geminid meteor shower, which will reach its peak about three days before 3200 Phaethon’s flyby.
“Phaethon has an unusually high eccentricity of 0.890 and a perihelion of 0.140 authat is among the smallest known in the near-Earth asteroid population,” the NASA statement reads. “Due to the close perihelion,Phaethon is named for the Greek mythological son of Helios (the Sun god). In Greek mythology, Phaethon drove his father’s chariot for one day, lost control of its horses, and nearly set the Earth on fire.”