Nasa has warned that a mammoth space rock which could be up to a quarter-mile wide is set to skim past Earth’s orbit just five days before Christmas. The news comes as the US space agency prepares to launch its first-ever mission to study an asteroid up close.
The so-called ‘ PLANET X ‘ asteroid, named for its unknown origin, is set to make a close approach to our planet on December 16. While it will miss Earth by a comfortable margin, the asteroid will come within just 1.3 million miles of our planet – closer than any other known object of its size.
Although it poses no threat of colliding with Earth, the sheer size of the asteroid means that if it were to hit our planet, the impact would be devastating. Scientists believe that an object of this size would be capable of causing widespread damage and even triggering global extinction.
The news comes as Nasa prepares to launch its OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on September 8th. The spacecraft will travel to Bennu, a nearby asteroid which is thought to be rich in water and organic materials. The mission represents a key step in our understanding of how life began on Earth, and could also provide vital information on how to defend our planet from future asteroid impacts.
What is an asteroid?
An asteroid is a small, airless, rocky body that orbits the sun. Most asteroids are found in the asteroid belt, a region of the solar system between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. There are also many asteroids that orbit closer to the sun, some of which can come very close to Earth’s orbit.
The size of the asteroid
Nasa has spotted a mammoth space rock that is set to zip past Earth’s orbit just five days before Christmas.
The asteroid, dubbed 3200 Phaethon, is as big as three football fields and is expected to come within 6.4 million miles of our planet’s orbit on December 16.
While that may sound like a long way away, it is actually quite close in space terms and means that the asteroid will be easily visible to the naked eye.
The speed of the asteroid
The speed of the asteroid is such that it will zip around the Earth’s orbit several times before making its closest approach on December 16. And according to NASA, there is a very small chance it could hit our planet.
The path of the asteroid
The giant space rock – which is about the size of Buckingham Palace – is currently barreling through space at more than 31,000mph.
Asteroid 3200 Phaethon will make its closest approach to Earth on December 16, just five days before Christmas.
Although the asteroid poses no threat to Earth and will not come closer than 6.4 million miles, it will be visible to the naked eye as it passes by.
The effects of the asteroid
The asteroid, named 3200 Phaethon, is set to swing by Earth on December 16. Although it will miss our planet by around 6.4 million miles (10.3 million kilometers), this is still close enough to be classed as a “potentially hazardous” object by NASA.
Asteroids of this size are capable of causing widespread destruction if they were to hit Earth, and so NASA monitors them closely. However, 3200 Phaethon is not thought to pose any risk of impact in the near future.
When the asteroid passes by Earth next week, it will be the closest it has come since its discovery in 1983. It will also be visible to the naked eye in some parts of the world, although binoculars or a telescope will be required to get a good view.
If you do spot 3200 Phaethon, don’t worry – it poses no danger to us here on Earth. Enjoy the show!
The asteroid, known as 3200 Phaethon, is set to skim past Earth on December 16, five days before Christmas. It is estimated to be around half a mile wide and is travelling at around 27 miles per second.
While it poses no threat to Earth itself, the asteroid will come closer to our planet than any other known rock of its size. It will also be visible to the naked eye during its fly-by, although it will be moving too quickly to be seen clearly.
Despite its size and speed, the asteroid is not expected to cause any damage or disruption as it passes by Earth. However, it provides a valuable opportunity for scientists to study an object of this type up close.