A giant asteroid 3200 Phaethon, named after a Greek demi-god, will brush past earth before Christmas, NASA has confirmed. The giant asteroid, which is 3-mile (5 km) wide, is classified as "potentially hazardous asteroid."
NASA in a statement said that the asteroid would be closet to earth on December 16 and they are hoping to get detailed images of the asteroid "with resolutions as fine as 75 m/pixel at Goldstone Observatory and 15 m/pixel at the Arecibo Observatory."
"Phaethon is the third largest near-earth asteroid classified as "potentially hazardous". Phaethon will approach within 0.069 astronomical units (au) of Earth (an approximate distance of 6.4 million miles/10.24 m kms) on December 16 when it will be a strong radar imaging target at Goldstone and Arecibo," the statement read.
"This will be the best opportunity to date for radar observations of this asteroid and we hope to obtain detailed images. The images should be excellent for obtaining a detailed 3D model."
The asteroid is named after the Greek mythological son of Helios (the Sun god) Phaethon because of its close perihelion. According to Greek mythology, Phaethon begged his father to let him drive his chariot of the sun for a day. But the experience turned fatal, as he lost control of the horses and nearly destroyed earth.
The 3200 Phaethon is also described as the "potentially hazardous asteroid" and it is half the size of the Chicxulub asteroid that the destroyed dinosaurs.
The December encounter will be the closet since 1974 and it will not be this close to earth until after 2093. The asteroid will also make a close approach towards "Venus, Mercury, and main-belt asteroid 15 Eunomia."
But there is no reason to worry about the asteroid, space consultant Bill Harwood explained it to CBS News.
"Any body that's bigger than about 500 feet across and its orbit carries it within about 4.6 million miles of earth at any point in its orbit is classified as a 'potentially hazardous' object," he explained. "Meaning over millennia — lots and lots of time — gravitational interactions with the outer planets, you know, other objects in the solar system might perturb the orbit enough that it could actually impact the earth."
"Now in the case of this asteroid, that's not the case. They think this asteroid — and its orbit is very well known — will never get closer than about 1.8 million miles of the earth," Harwood said.