A three-mile (5km) wide asteroid named 3200 Phaethon will have a dangerously close encounter with our planet on December 17, Russian astronomers reported.
NASA has described the event as “potentially hazardous”, stating that the giant asteroid will miss Earth by some two million miles, which is considered close by space standards.
It is estimated that the asteroid is twice the size of the rock that, according to currently accepted theories, caused the extinction of dinosaurs, millions of years ago.
Astronomers from Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University said the asteroid was once a part of much bigger object.
‘Apparently, this asteroid was once a much bigger object, but its many approaches to the Sun have caused it to crumble into smaller pieces which eventually formed this meteor shower.
‘If so, the asteroid itself could be the residue of a comet nucleus. The asteroid’s extremely elongated orbit, thanks to which it sometimes gets to the Sun closer than Mercury and it sometimes moves away farther than Mars, is another argument in favour of this theory.’
NASA stated that they were ‘baffled’ by the asteroid, because of its highly unusual orbit, which causes it to pass closer to the Sun than any other currently known asteroid.
Astronomers from NASA said that there is no reason for concern, and that close encounters with such large asteroids is extremely rare.
Image Credit: NASA