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Phaëthon(fā`əthən, –tən) or
Phaëton(fā`ətən), in Greek mythology, son of Helios and the nymph Clymene. He tried to drive his father's golden chariot, but he could not control its great steeds. As the chariot plunged to earth it burned Mt. Oeta and dried the Libyan Desert. The universe would have been destroyed by fire if Zeus had not killed Phaëthon with a thunderbolt.
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Phaethon((3200) Phaeton) A 6.9-km-diameter Apollo asteroid discovered in 1983 on photographs taken by the infrared satellite IRAS. Its unusual orbit (eccentricity 0.89, inclination 22.17?%) crosses the orbits of Mars, Earth, Venus, and Mercury and takes it to a perihelion of 0.14 AU from the Sun. This is the closest approach to the Sun of any known asteroid. Phaethon's 1.43-year orbit is almost identical to the Geminid meteoroid stream, and Phaethon is now generally assumed to be the parent of the Geminids. Before Phaethon's discovery meteor showers were thought to be associated only with comets, and there has been considerable debate as to whether it is an extinct comet.
Collins Dictionary of Astronomy © Market House Books Ltd, 2006
ill-fated driver of the chariot of sun. [Gk. Myth.: Metamorphoses]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.