Asteroid To Skim Earth at 0.58 LD on December 28

NASA has captured the highest-resolution images yet of a massive asteroid that skimmed past Earth earlier this month. The huge space rock known as 3200 Phaethon made its closest approach to Earth on Dec 16 at about 6.4 million miles (10.3 million kilome

"As of December 24, there are 17,495 known Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) around our planet".

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.

"These new observations of Phaethon show it may be similar in shape to asteroid Bennu, the target of NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, but over 1,000 times larger", said Patrick Taylor, a Universities Space Research Association (USRA), Columbia, Maryland, scientist and group leader for Planetary Radar at Arecibo Observatory.

On Christmas Day, astronomers at the Mount Lemmon Survey near Tucson, Arizona, discovered an asteroid fast approaching Earth.

Even though NASA has set up a Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO), with the stated objective of "ensuring the early detection of potentially hazardous objects" - which include asteroids and comets - spotting these objects well ahead of time as they hurtle toward Earth isn't always easy or even possible, given the sheer vastness of the sky.

In 2013, another unknown rock came from nowhere to explode in the sky above Chelyabinsk, Russia.

The energy was equivalent to 500,000 tonnes of TNT and injured more than 1,000 people.

The new observations conducted from December 15-19 show Phaethon to be about 3.6 miles (six kilometres) wide.

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The 3200 Phaethon, named after a mythical Greek character credited with nearly destroying the sun, came within 10.3 million kilometers of Earth on December 16. NASA experts expect that the asteroid is completely gone in the near future.

The asteroid's trajectory is marked in green.

Images from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico show a massive space rock's close approach to Earth on December 16.

The images, captured at a resolution of 250 feet (75 meters) per pixel, reveal the asteroid is spheroidal in shape and has a larger body than previously thought.

It is the 52nd asteroid to skim past the Earth by a distance less than that of the Moon this year.

Discovered initially in 1983 by NASA's Infrared Astronomical Satellite, 3200 Phaethon is listed as "potentially hazardous" due to its size and occasional encounters with Earth.

With fully functional radar at the Arecibo Observatory, NASA's will be able to track and monitor asteroids that could pose threats to Earth. It was just two million miles away from the Earth's orbit.


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