A colossal three-mile-wide asteroid is set to pass the Earth tonight and has been classified by NASA as ‘potentially hazardous’.
Don’t go running to the bomb-shelter just yet though, the asteroid named 3200 Phaethon, after the Greek demi-god who nearly set the Earth on fire, will pass within 6.5 million miles of the Earth.
Now that may sound like a huge distance, and it is, but in astronomical terms, it’s scarily close.
NASA said in a statement:
With a diameter of about 5 km, Phaethon is the third largest near-Earth asteroid classified as ‘Potentially Hazardous’.
Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are hoping to use the opportunity to make a 3D model of Phaethon and its weird shape.
Phaethon was first detected in December 2007 and is believed to be responsible for the Geminid meteor shower making it one of only two meteor showers not originating from a comet.
The asteroid will be the closest it’s been to the Earth since 1974 and won’t be this close again until after 2093.
According to NASA Phaethon will be visible using small telescopes although only for experienced star gazers in areas with dark skies.
Phaethon isn’t the only asteroid NASA have been concerned about, 99942 Apophis was briefly believed to be on a collision course with Earth in the year 2029.
It remains the only asteroid to reach the fourth level of the Torino Scale, a method for categorizing the impact hazard associated with near-Earth objects (NEOs).
The Torino Scale defines a level four threat as:
A close encounter, meriting attention by astronomers. Current calculations give a 1% or greater chance of collision capable of regional devastation.
Most likely, new telescopic observations will lead to reassignment to Level 0. Attention by public and by public officials is merited if the encounter is less than a decade away.
Thankfully further study of Apophis revealed that it was unlikely to collide with the planet.