Astronomers announced early this week that last year they had gotten a close look at a bizarre blue asteroid named Phaethon that sometimes acts like a comet. According to Teddy Kareta a graduate student of Arizona University, most asteroids are dull grey or red according to the material on their surface and blue asteroids are a rare phenomenon. Phaethon has attracted the attention of astronomers and scientists because it has characteristics of both asteroid and comet. Though the asteroid was discovered several decades ago in 1983 they had ignored it declaring it as a dead and burnt-out comet.
But though active comets are generally red in color and Phaethon has an erratic orbit that would make most people regard it as a dead comet one can still never be sure if it is an asteroid or a dead comet. Phaethon made its closest flyby from earth in Dec 2017 since 1974 and passed within 6.4 million miles which gave astronomers across the globe an opportunity to study the heavenly object closely and understand where it came from. The asteroid is considered as the source for the annual Geminid meteor shower that happens every year on earth between first to third week in December.
According to NASA, Phaethon has been hard to categorize and some are calling it a rock comet instead of an asteroid or dead comet due to its highly elliptical orbit around the sun. A curious mannerism of the Phaethon is that the object does not develop a comet like tail when it passes by the sun and its spectra is like a rocky asteroid. Earlier scientists were of the opinion that Phaethon is a broken part of asteroid Pallus but its reflective surface suggests otherwise. It’s strange all round blue color suggests that the comet has been evenly cooked by sun’s heat. Scientists are hoping for more information about it when Japanese Aerospace Exploring Agency’s rovers land on it in 2022 as per a recent announcement in American Astronomical Society Division at Knoxville, TN.