NASA asteroid impact
An illustration shows an asteroid impacting Earth in circumstances similar to the asteroid strike that killed the dinosaurs and plunged the world into darkness. NASA/NCAR

A giant asteroid will fly precariously close to Earth mid-December. The object named 3200 Phaethon will come about 6.4 million miles from Earth, and within about 2 million miles of Earth's orbit. In fact, the International Astronomical Union’s (IAU) Minor Planet Center has categorized 3200 Phaethon as a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA).

This asteroid is named after Greek God Phaetheon, son of Helios (god of the Sun), who according to mythology, set Earth ablaze. The giant asteroid, which measures 3.1 miles across, is set to fly really close to us and has got astronomers interested.

It was first discovered way back in 1983, and its most recent pass of Earth came in 2007 where it was measured to be at a distance of roughly 11.2 million miles from our planet. This was considered pretty close back in 2007 but still fell under the distance bracket which was not a reason for alarm. This time, the asteroid will fly by at 6.4 million miles which is almost half the measured distance of 2007. So this object is steadily getting closer and this story is headed exactly where your conspiracy-fuelled imagination is taking you, right now.

The fly-by is estimated to happen just days before the annual Geminids meteor shower, which is expected to be active between Dec. 4 and Dec. 16. The estimated peak of the shower will be on Dec. 13-14. The Geminids sky event is quite unique, as it is the only meteor shower with a parent that is not a comet but an object that seems to be the mysterious, 3200 Phaethon asteroid.

Though it is technically classified as an asteroid, there are still questions as to the origins of the heavenly body. There have been several questions regarding why an asteroid causes a meteor shower which was never heard of before the discovery of 3200 Phaethon. Questions regarding the composition of this space rock have been raised and the fly-by in December will be a great opportunity to study this rock up-close.

Current theories on the origin of this asteroid are that the Phaethon broke off from another space object and ejects meteoroids as a result or that perhaps it collided with another object thousands of years ago. There was also the theory that perhaps Phaethon is a dead comet that once had ice. However, none of the theories hold up to the current data that they have.

According to NASA, it’s technically defined as an asteroid, in fact, the first ever to be discovered by satellite. But it’s also the parent object that produces a unique meteor shower called the Geminids, something asteroids are incapable of producing. Other theories say that it’s a dead comet, or a rock comet.

According to a press release by NASA about the 2007 flyby, the asteroid is usually too dim for the naked eye, but a good target for amateur telescopes equipped with CCD cameras. It is potentially detectable for three weeks, but will be at its brightest between Dec. 11 - 21.

"3200 Phaethon is flying past Earth just a few days before this year’s Geminid meteor shower," Bill Cooke of the Marshall Space Flight Center said. "At first you might not see very many meteors—but be patient. The show really heats up after midnight and by dawn on Friday, Dec. 14, there could be dozens of bright meteors per hour streaking across the sky."

This story has been updated with new information.