The bluest asteroid in the solar system has baffled scientists for years, but now its SECRET is out
The asteroid Phaethon is the bluest asteroid in the solar system and it has long baffled scientists on Earth. But eventually, the secret is out. Find out below.
There are many secrets that these small space rocks called asteroids can carry within themselves. After years of observation, scientists have revealed a lot of information about them. But a secret has long eluded them. And that belongs to a particular asteroid named Phaethon. This asteroid is considered the bluest known asteroid in the entire solar system. This means that the asteroid gives off a blue tint when viewed from telescopes on Earth. Usually, scientists have found that asteroids are either gray in color due to rocks and dust, or reddish in color, indicating the presence of iron in them. But eventually, the researchers were able to crack that secret.
Phaethon is one of a small group of asteroids that exhibit the color blue in our solar system. Among them, Phaethon is the bluest. First observed in the early 1980s, scientists have spent decades trying to decode the reason for its unique color. Now, a new study has been published in the online journal called Icarus where a group of researchers claim that thermal weathering is responsible for this strange phenomenon.
The Sun is behind the bluest asteroid in the solar system
It turns out that the asteroid Phaethon, in its orbital path, is extremely close to the Sun. In fact, it goes closer than any other named asteroid to a distance of 13 million miles from the Sun. For reference, the nearest planet Mercury orbits the Sun at three times the distance to the asteroid. Due to its proximity, the asteroid heats up to 800 degrees Celsius and as a result Phaethon is stripped of its red chemicals like iron and other red-colored organic chemicals due to the heat, according to the ‘study.
“You’re basically not reddening the surface. Although some of the red color reaccumulates as Phaethon orbits past Mars, it’s lost again as Phaethon approaches the sun. After thousands of revolutions, only materials remain that reflect darker, cooler colors,” Carey Lisse, the study’s lead author, said in a statement.
To illustrate this, the researchers created a model detailing the chemical composition of the asteroid, then added heat to prove that it was indeed the reddest substances that vaporized. After that, what remains are the blue-colored compounds which, lacking any opposition, shine brightly.
“I was a bit surprised that the idea actually worked. It just seems crazy to think that maybe Phaethon looks so blue because it’s so hot that it preferentially produces iron gas by compared to rock gas, but apparently it’s not so crazy after all,” said study co-author Jordan Steckloff.