A three-mile wide “potentially hazardous” asteroid passed close to Earth Saturday, according to NASA … well, relatively close.
An object known as 3200 Phaethon whizzed by within 6.4 million miles of Earth around 3 p.m. MST.
That’s about 27 times the distance between the Earth and the moon, so the pass-by was never considered dangerous.
However, the close encounter will make the asteroid bright enough for experienced observers under dark skies to see it in smaller telescopes.
This encounter is the closest by this asteroid since 1974, according to NASA. Scientists said it won’t be this close again until 2093.
The asteroid, which has a diameter of roughly three miles, is the third largest near-Earth “potentially hazardous asteroid,” according to the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center, the official organization that collects observational data for asteroids and comets.
Yes, that “potentially hazardous” classification seems unsettling, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to crash into us any time soon. The classification means Phaethon periodically has these close encounters with Earth and is large enough to cause significant damage if it were to collide with us.
3200 Phaethon is also widely thought to be the source of the spectacular Geminids meteor shower we got earlier this month. Most meteor showers are associated with comets, so Phaethon is a bit of a mystery.
Some scientists believe Phaethon might be an extinct comet, the rocky nucleus of a comet where the ices have sublimated away. NASA says another theory is that Phaethon broke apart from another object, ejecting meteoroids as a part of the breakup.
But experts don't yet have the data to support those theories, according to NASA.