A look at 3200 Phaethon: A big, bizarre, blue asteroid we plan to visit
New research suggests the "rock comet" is weirder than previously thought.
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It could be the strangest asteroid in our celestial neighborhood.
Named 3200 Phaethon, the 5-kilometer-wide (3.1-mile) space rock is one of the few asteroids responsible for a meteor shower, it makes unusually close passes by the sun as it orbits and it's also an unusual color.
Kareta led an international team of researchers who investigated the odd asteroid, which sometimes behaves like a comet by releasing a dusty tail when it passes close to the sun, earning it the nickname the "rock comet." He says they found it to be even more enigmatic than expected.
Phaethon was discovered to be the source of the Geminid meteor shower in 1983. Before then, it was thought that only comets could be the source of meteor showers. And It's one of very few blue asteroids. Most space rocks and comets tend to be more gray or red. Its eccentric orbit around the sun also means it reaches temperatures exceeding 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit (800 Celsius).
In preparation for the launch of Destiny Plus, currently set for 2022 with arrival at the asteroid around 2025, Kareta hopes to be able to study a few known fragments of Phaethon to unlock the mysteries of its weirdness.
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