Russian Astronomers Show Big Asteroid Approaching the Earth

Thursday, November 16, 2017
By Paul Martin

The astronomer community at Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University used its own Astro-Model simulation environment to produce a virtual image of object 3200 Phaethon approaching the Earth, plus the expected Geminids meteor shower.

December 17, 2017 will see an interesting astronomic event in the form of object 3200 Phaethon approaching our planet. This is a fairly large asteroid nearly 5 kilometers in diameter, which will fly past the Earth within 10 million kilometers, close by space standards.

The asteroid derives its name from its unusual orbit that in perihelia brings it closer to the Sun than any other named asteroid (20 million kilometers). To compare: Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun in the Solar system, is 46 million kilometers from the Sun.

Yet another interesting detail is that object 3200 is accompanied by the Geminids meteor shower, which is at its most active on December 13-14, when as many as 100 meteors flicker in the sky and burn in the atmosphere without causing any harm. From time to time, observers will also see bright bolides. The meteor shower will be visible every year; Phaethon itself has had a number of close approaches to Earth.

“Based on the evidence, this asteroid was a bigger object before, but its many approaches to the Sun have caused it to crumble into smaller pieces that ended up forming the meteor shower. If so, the asteroid itself is the residue of a comet nucleus. This theory is corroborated by its extremely elongated orbit, which now brings it closer than Mercury to the Sun, and takes it farther away than Mars,” Alexei Baigashov, head of the Astronomer Community (AC) at Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University said.

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