A 3-mile (5 km) wide asteroid named 3200 Phaethon will brush past Earth just before Christmas.
The huge object is named after the Greek demi-god Phaethon, who according to legend almost destroyed Earth.
It will brush ‘quite close’ with Earth on December 17, Russian astronomers have shown.
A giant 3-mile (5 km) wide asteroid named 3200 Phaethon will brush past Earth just before Christmas. It will brush ‘quite close’ with Earth on December 17, Russian astronomers have shown (stock image)
Experts at the Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University in Konigsberg, Russia, have published a video that tracks the path of Phaethon.
The object, which Nasa has previously described as a ‘potentially hazardous asteroid’, will pass 6.4 million miles (10.3m km) from Earth – relatively close in space terms.
At 3 miles (5 km) wide, the asteroid is roughly half the size of Chicxulub, the rock that wiped out the dinosaurs.
Its unusual orbit will see it pass closer to the sun than any other named asteroid.
3200 Phaethon has puzzled scientists because it has features of both an asteroid and a comet.
In one of its previous close encounters with Earth, scientists spotted dust streaming from the space rock that resembles the melting ice tails seen tailing most comets.
But Phaethon’s orbit puts its origins in a region between Mars and Jupiter where asteroids commonly originate.
Typically, icy comets come from colder regions of space beyond Neptune.
In a statement, Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University said: ‘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.’
The asteroid is named after the son of the Greek sun god Helios ‘Phaethon’ because it passes so close to the sun.
The asteroid is named after the son of the Greek sun god Helios ‘Phaethon’ because it passes so close to the sun. Legend claims the young demi-god almost destroyed Earth by stealing his father’s (bottom right) chariot (top of image) and scorching Earth with the sun (top left)
Legend claims the young demi-god was challenged to prove he was related to Helios, who was said to pull the sun across the sky.
To prove his divine provenance, Phaethon rode his father’s chariot, but was unable to control the horses, who then ran wild across the sky, dragging the sun with them.
Earth was almost destroyed in the ensuing chaos, which scorched the planet, burned vast amounts of vegetation and created the great deserts of Africa.