If researchers’ enthusiasm is any indication, an asteroid called 3200 Phaethon may be out of this world in more ways than one.
University of Arizona Ph.D. student Teddy Kareta headed up a group of researchers studying the space rock. The group presented its findings on Tuesday, at a conference of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Science in Tennessee.
But what is it that makes 3200 Phaethon so interesting?
The blue asteroid behind the Geminid meteor shower was found in the heavens in 1983. Before then, astronomers connected meteor showers to comets, Kareta wrote in a news release.
“At the time, the assumption was that Phaethon probably was a dead, burnt-out comet,” Kareta said, “but comets are typically red in color, and not blue. So, even though Phaethon’s highly eccentric orbit should scream ‘dead comet,’ it’s hard to say whether Phaethon is more like an asteroid or more like a dead comet.”
Kareta wrote that to make its observations, his team used telescopes in Arizona and Hawaii to look at sunlight reflected off the space rock.
The asteroid, Kareta wrote, “appears to be one of the ‘bluest’ of similarly colored asteroids or comets in the solar system.” Asteroids, he hastened to add, are frequently “dull grey to red.”
The team has also linked 3200 Phaethon to another blue-hued asteroid, dubbed 2 Pallas. Kareta wrote that the group thinks Phaethon “might be related or have broken off from” that other object.