Christmas 2017 is going to be exciting for many reasons, but one of the reasons is a “monster” asteroid, which is supposed to pass by the Earth on Dec. 16, is just a little more than a week before Christmas. What’s spectacular about this massive asteroid is that it has a huge diameter of 3 miles. Here’s what we know about it!
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The huge visitor has been named 3200 Phaethon, which originates after the Greek demigod. This demigod set the Earth on fire, according to the legend. However, it’s unlikely that 3200 Phaethon will get close enough to do any damage to our planet. It’s going to pass 6.5 million miles away from the Earth. While that’s relatively close, it’s still 27 times the distance to the moon.
Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will try to get a detailed 3D model of the massive asteroid with an irregular shape. The asteroid was detected in December 2007 for the first time and was believed to be the parent body for the Geminid meteor shower, which is expected to happen on Dec. 13. The Geminid meteor shower is one of the two great meteor showers which don’t come from a comet, the other being the Quadrantid meteor shower which takes place in January. Asteroids and comets have a different composition. While asteroids are made out of metal and rocks, the comets are covered in ice, dust and rocky material.
The comets that are approaching the Sun lose their composition every time they orbit as their ice melts and forms its tail. The 3200 Phaethon though, shows minor activity as it approaches the Sun, making some scientists believe that the asteroid is actually an inactive comet nucleus, although it mostly acts as an asteroid. It is going to approach our planet in December, making it the closest to our planet since 1974, and until after 2093. However, scientists will observe the asteroid and try to find out whether it is actually the suspected comet nucleus.
Astronomers and astronomy enthusiasts will be able to view the 3200 Phaethon via small telescopes if they observe it in dark areas and on a clear night sky. They will be able to see it in about three weeks, but it’s going to be at its brightest between Dec. 11 and 21, NASA wrote.
If you are not able to see the massive asteroid, make sure to catch a glimpse of the Geminid meteor shower, which will be able to be seen for 10 nights in December, and is going to have up to a 100 hourly rate.