Sunday, November 15, 2020

Asteroid Apophis Could One Day Hit Earth. Here's How We Could Get to It First

Animation depicting the 2068 close approach. Blue dots represent satellites, some of which are farther away than the expected pathway of asteroid Apophis. Gif: NASA/JPL-Caltech

George Dvorsky

The clock is officially ticking.

Apophis—an asteroid as wide as three football fields—has a slim chance of slamming into Earth in 2068. Before then, however, the object is scheduled to zip past us in an encounter that scientists are already planning to exploit. Here are some intriguing ways in which we could explore Apophis during its next close approach in 2029.

In just nine years, potentially hazardous asteroid 99942 Apophis will come to within 19,000 miles (31,000 kilometers) of our planet. At one-tenth the distance between Earth and the Moon, that’s a close shave by any measure, and an exceptionally rare occurrence for an asteroid of this size—it’ll actually be visible to the naked eye. Current estimates place the mean width of the object at roughly 1,100 feet (350 meters). The 2029 close approach is considered a once-in-a-thousand-year opportunity for scientists to study an object of this size as it brushes past a planet.

Indeed, the gravitational stresses imposed on the asteroid during this flyby will be of great interest to scientists, but there’s a potentially more pressing issue at stake. Apophis is ranked third on NASA’s naughty list for potentially hazardous near-Earth objects (NEOs), with a 1 in 150,000 chance of hitting Earth in 2068. Other estimates place the odds closer to 1 in 530,000, but regardless, Apophis represents a potential catastrophic threat.  Read more >>