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Beyond Earthly Skies

Activity on Phaethon

10 Apr 2013, 09:48 UTC
Activity on Phaethon
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Phaethon is an asteroid with an unusual orbit that brings it very close to the Sun. For any object orbiting the Sun, the point in its orbit where it is closest to the Sun is known as perihelion. At perihelion, Phaethon comes as close as 0.14 AU from the Sun and its surface gets intensely heated to a temperature of ~1000 K. In Greek mythology, Phaethon was the name of the son of the sun god Helios. The asteroid Phaethon measures about 5 km in diameter and is believed to be the parent body of the Geminid meteoroid stream. On Earth, meteors from the Geminid meteoroid stream usually peak around the 13th to 14th December.NASA’s STEREO spacecraft detected anomalous optical brightening of Phaethon each time when the asteroid was at perihelion in 2009 and 2012. At perihelion, Phaethon brightened by a factor of ~6 and the brightening lasted for a duration of about 2 days. Such a brightening is far too large and too long-lived to be attributed simply to the variation in brightness caused by rotation of the irregularly-shaped asteroid every ~3.6 hours. The longevity of the brightening also means that it cannot be attributed to reflection from a ...

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