Bizarre near-Earth asteroid is spinning faster every year — and scientists aren’t sure why

An illustration of the trajectory of potentially hazardous near-Earth asteroid 3200 Phaethon as it passed by Earth in 2017. New research suggests the asteroid’s spin is accelerating. (Image credit: Tom Ruen/Wikimedia)

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A potentially hazardous near-Earth asteroid is spinning faster and faster every year, and researchers aren’t sure why. 

The space rock, known as 3200 Phaethon, is around 3.4 miles (5.4 kilometers) wide, and its orbit through the solar system takes it closer to the sun than any other named asteroid, reaching a minimum distance of around 13 million miles (20.9 million km) from the sun — less than half the distance from Mercury to the sun. During Phaethon’s orbit around the sun, which lasts for around 524 days, the space rock travels close enough to Earth to be considered “potentially hazardous.” But the closest Phaethon has ever come to our planet was in 2017 when it passed by around 6.4 million miles (10.3 million km) from Earth, or around 27 times farther away than the moon. The asteroid’s dusty trail is responsible for the Geminids meteor shower, which peaks in early December every year and is visible across the globe. 

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