(ORDO NEWS) — Near-Earth asteroid, which annually “waters” the Earth with the Geminid meteor shower, is behaving strangely.
Scientists studying the changing light of Phaethon have come to the conclusion that the rocky body rotates faster and faster around its axis by 4 milliseconds annually.
It may not be much, but the fact is that the rotation of an asteroid usually does not change at all. And this is already strange and requires study, astronomers are sure.
Now they are trying to figure out why the asteroid is behaving in such a strange way. In their opinion, this will allow us to learn more about the “potentially dangerous” objects that rush past the Earth in orbit around the Sun.
At present Phaeton does not pose a danger to the Earth, but at its 5.8 kilometers in diameter it is large enough to cause a lot of trouble.
Moreover, the trajectory of the asteroid passes close enough to our planet, which makes us look at the possible risks differently.
This asteroid has a dusty tail, like a comet, and creates annual meteor showers for us. And yet, unlike a comet, it most likely has no ice on it. Scientists in this regard called it a “stone comet.”
Phaethon’s unusual characteristics have drawn the attention of astronomers, who have designated it as a future target for the DESTINY+ landing mission led by the Japan Space Agency.
Phaeton’s brightness changes as it rotates, allowing astronomers to calculate its rotation period. Now scientists are trying to clarify this data, as they intend to land a probe on this mysterious object.
This was announced by planetary scientist Sean Marshall from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, who discovered the unusual behavior of the asteroid .
“The predictions made from the simulations didn’t match the data,” says Marshall.
“I realized that Phaethon’s rotation period changed slightly some time before the 2021 observations, possibly due to comet-like activity when it was near perihelion in December 2020.”
An analysis of the obtained data for the period from 1989 to 2021 showed that the change can be explained by a gradual constant acceleration, losing 4 milliseconds of the rotation period per year.
Year by year, the change is not a big deal, but as the decades go by, it becomes more and more noticeable.
It is possible that rotation is the result of mass loss. The release of gases in comets causes a spinning effect. In addition, a study conducted in 2021 showed that Phaethon can excrete sodium.
It is also possible that the Yarkovsky effect is at work here, when the heat of the approaching Sun affects the speed of rotation of a celestial body.
Now the researchers intend to find out what is really happening with Phaeton.
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