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3200 Phaethon – Outlandish Blue Space Rock   14 comments

Rare Blue Asteroid 3200 Phaethon

AsteroidsTo observe a blue asteroid is an extraordinary occurrence, and to stumble on a blue comet is an unprecedented phenomenon. Asteroid (3200) Phaethon is an outlandish blue-coloured asteroid which in addition has been discerned to be acting on occasion in much the same way as a comet, and it is proving to be well beyond the mysterious and remarkable status that its international investigators originally credited it with.

Most asteroids range in colour from lacklustre grey to varying shades of red, depending on the nature of their physical surface matter. Phaethon is not only one of the very few rare blue asteroids in our galaxy but furthermore, looks to be one of the most outstanding shades of blue amongst celestial bodies of its kind, including comets.

Orbit of 3200 Phaethon
Orbit of 3200 Phaethon – Image Credit: By Tomruen – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Phaethon’s blue colouring is derived from reflecting extra blue-end spectrum light and is unvarying across the whole of its surface, suggesting it has relatively recently taken a roasting by the Sun. The implication is further enforced by the surface temperature of Phaeton which can be an aluminium-melting 800 degrees C, (1,500 degrees F) approximately, due to capacity of its decidedly eccentric orbit to bring Phaethon bringing it into such close vicinity of the Sun.

Phaethon has the typical appearance of an asteroid in the night sky (a dot) despite that the standard implications say that it is a dead comet (indistinct sphere and a tail). It also appears to be where the December Geminids meteor shower springs from. Phaeton was detected in 1983, up to which point meteor showers were connected with active comets rather than asteroids in scientific circles.

Phaethon has proved something of an enigma enjoying both asteroid qualities and the appearance and behaviour of a comet. The result being that it’s hard to say which one it bears the closest resemblance to. It is alone, other than one other celestial body in the galaxy in discharging a miniature tail of dust at its nearest point to the sun. Consequently, the distinguishing features customarily understood to single out comets from asteroids suddenly became very unclear.

It is possible that Phaethon could either be a relative of, or even an actual broken-off chunk of another blue asteroid known as Pallas. A large and much more distant asteroid, Pallas has been observed to be approximately twice as reflective as Phaethon which itself has proved many shades darker than it had first been considered to be.  However, this does nothing to help in explaining the potential relationship between asteroids Phaethon and Pallas.

Another possible Phaethon relative, is 2005 UD, small blue asteroid also under observation by astronomers, along with Phaethon, to decipher the mysteries inherent in these two blue asteroids and discover whether the same rare properties exist in them both. Such research and its future results will support astronomer’s efforts to figure-out the secrets of the enigmatic blue asteroid Phaethon.

Sources:  University of Arizona, (“Rare blue asteroid reveals itself during fly-by.”)



Posted November 12, 2018 by europasicewolf in Astronomy

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