VOID The astroid has a mysterious dark space right in its centre
28 December, 2017, 21:50
First spotted at the Mount Mount Lemmon Survey Observatory in Arizona, US, the asteroid will be the 52nd to pass between Earth and the moon this year.
"These new observations of Phaethon show it may be similar in shape to asteroid Bennu, the target of NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, but more than 1,000 Bennus could fit inside of Phaethon", said Patrick Taylor, Universities Space Research Association (USRA) scientist and group leader for Planetary Radar at Arecibo Observatory, in a press release.
The space rock - which will be travelling at 21,363 miles per hour when it makes its closest approach to earth at 4.56pm on December 28 - measures between seven and 15 metres (22.6 to 49 feet) in diameter.
Nasa describes near-earth objects as "comets and asteroids that have been nudged by the gravitational attraction of nearby planets into orbits that allow them to enter the Earth's neighborhood". The encounter is the closest the asteroid will come to Earth until 2093, but it came a little closer in 1974 and about half this distance back in 1931 before its existence was known.
In February 2013, a 19-metre (62ft) meteor exploded in the skies above Chelyabinsk in Russian Federation.
Because of its large size and close proximity to Earth, Phaethon is categorized as a "potentially hazardous" asteroid, being the second largest object with that designation. Observations of Phaethon were conducted at Arecibo from December 15 through 19, 2017, using the NASA-funded planetary radar system.
During a recent pass of another asteroid, Nasa used its global network of observatories to recover, track and characterise asteroid 2012 TC4.
At its closest point, the asteroid will be around 140,000 miles away from Earth.
This means it's larger than previously thought, by about 0.6 miles (one kilometre). The last object that came within lunar distance to the Earth was reported a little over a month ago, on November 21.
In a statement about the asteroid, which was first discovered in 1983, a spokesperson for Nasa said: "With a diameter of about 5km, Phaethon is the third largest near-Earth asteroid classified as 'Potentially Hazardous"'. Arecibo's radar images of Phaethon have resolutions as fine as about 250 feet (75 meters) per pixel.
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