Every year, a potentially dangerous near-Earth asteroid spins faster.

A possibly hazardous asteroid moves faster toward Earth.

A possibly hazardous Asteroid moves faster toward Earth.

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Representative Picture

A potentially dangerous near-Earth object that is 750 light-years away from Earth is spinning more quickly every year, which may eventually cause it to change its course through the solar system, although this will take hundreds or possibly millions of years.

The new data indicate that Phaethon loses four milliseconds annually, despite the fact that it completes one spin in about 3.6 hours and is named after the son of the sun god Helios in Greek mythology.

The asteroid is the largest of the group and only the eleventh with a measured shift in rotation period.

The discovery was made after astronomers saw that a form model of Phaethon did not match their actual light curve data, which could only mean that its rotation period is slightly altering.

The team noticed that Phaethon’s rotation accelerated between the initial observations in 1989 and the data gathered in 2021. The table’s decline indicates that the rotation is shorter.

Researchers from the University of Central Florida and Arecibo Observatory spearheaded the study, and even though Arecibo is no longer operational, the data it gathered before the 2020 collapse is still yielding fresh insights.

The asteroid, formally known as 3200 Phaethon, passed Earth in 2017 at a distance of 6.4 million miles, and it is predicted to do it again in 2093, this time at a distance of 1.8 million miles.

Arecibo recorded the 2017 occurrence, gathering a collection of radar photos that reveal the asteroid is shaped like a spinning top and has an unusually blue spectrum for asteroids.

These observations were coupled with others from 2007, as well as star occultations from 2019 to 2021 and light curves from several apparitions that occurred between 1989 and 2021.

The shape and rotation state of Phaethon was then modeled using this data.

The earliest light curve of Phaethon is from October 9, 1989, according to a statement from Dr. Sean Marshall, a planetary scientist at Arecibo Observatory.

“At first, we thought that Phaethon’s rotation period might have changed prior to the 2021 observations, possibly as a result of activity in December 2020, when it was close to perihelion.

Despite the fact that Phaethon completes one round in about 3.6 hours, the most recent data indicate that it is gaining four milliseconds annually.


It has been established that Phaethon, discovered in 1983, is the parent body of the Geminid meteor shower.

Although comets are often the parent bodies of meteor showers, Phaethon doesn’t exhibit normal cometary activity.

Instead, it is a proven active asteroid that emits dust.

It also has an unexpected blue hue. Another puzzle surrounding this intriguing asteroid is the fact that its reflected light is extremely polarised.

A constant rotational acceleration, on the other hand, “provides a strong fit to all of the data from 1989 through 2021, clearly accounting for the inconsistencies seen in 1989 and 2021 while also modestly enhancing the model’s agreement with the data during subsequent apparitions,” the researchers discovered.

According to Marshall, the team has thought about a number of potential acceleration-causing factors, including radiation, but none are powerful enough to bring about such a transformation.

The first asteroid to be found in spacecraft data was Phaethon, which Simon Green and John Davies found in 1983 using information from the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS).

The Geminid meteor shower, which is usually visible from Earth in mid-December, was found to be its source.

And the asteroid, which is three miles broad, is about half as big as Chicxulub, the rock that killed off the dinosaurs.

Scientists observed dust streaming from the space rock during one of its earlier near encounters with Earth that matches the evaporating ice tails found tailing most comets.

However, due to Phaethon’s orbit, asteroids frequently form in the space between Mars and Jupiter. Ice comets typically originate from colder parts of space beyond Neptune.

Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University stated in a statement from 2017 that “apparently, this asteroid was previously a considerably bigger object.”

But as a result of its numerous collisions with the sun, it disintegrated into tiny fragments that eventually came together to produce this meteor shower.

The most detailed photographs of 3200 Phaethon were taken by NASA in 2017, and this information was used to create the shape model. If this is the case, the asteroid itself may represent the remains of a comet nucleus.

Another reason in favor of this view is the asteroid’s highly extended orbit, which allows it to occasionally approach the Sun closer than Mercury and occasionally recede farther than Mars.

This year’s launch of the DESTINY+ probe by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency will allow astronomers to better understand Phaethon’s surface geology by taking photographs as it flies near the star.

The recently approved DESTINY+ mission will fly by Phaethon and look into this intriguing mystery.

The amount of light an item reflects, or its albedo, is dependent on both the lighting angle and the angle at which it is illuminated.

When sunlight reflects off an asteroid’s surface, one particular phenomenon in which scientists are particularly interested is how polarisation changes.

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