Apophis Asteroid to Pass by Earth Wednesday

(Image: Shutterstock.com)

It seems like almost every week there’s some news about an asteroid making a close pass by Earth or about the research scientists are conducting to prevent an Armageddon-like impact of an asteroid, like the recent idea to send it into orbit around the moon.

This story combines both as the Apophis asteroid — named after the Egyptian god of darkness and destruction — will pass Earth at a relatively close distance on Wednesday. During this event, researchers will take in various observations in an effort to be better predict if it will ever be on a more targeted course toward Earth in the future.

You might remember some previous headlines made by Apophis. It’s famous for the predictions that have been made about when and how likely it would be to hit Earth (or not). Here’s more on that from NASA:

Upon its discovery in 2004, Apophis was briefly estimated to have a 2.7% chance of impacting the Earth in 2029. Additional measurements later showed there was no impact risk at that time from the 210-330 meter (690-1080 foot) diameter object, identified spectroscopically as an Sq type similar to LL chondritic meteorites. However, there will be a historically close approach to the Earth, estimated to be a 1 in 800 year event (on average, for an object of that size).

While trajectory knowledge was substantially corrected by the Arecibo data, a small estimated chance of impact (less than 1 in 45,000 using standard dynamical models) remained for April 13, 2036.

Apophis will pass at 14.5 million kilometres above Earth’s surface Wednesday. To put this into perspective the moon is 384,403 kilometers away. So, it’s not exactly a close scrape but it’s close enough for astronomers to gather data they hadn’t been able to before. The Guardian has more on this front:

Wednesday 9 January will afford astronomers the rare opportunity to bring a battery of telescopes to bear: from optical telescopes to radio telescopes to the European Space Agency’s Infrared Space Observatory Herschel. Two of the biggest unknowns that remain to be established are the asteroid’s mass and the way it is spinning. Both of these affect the asteroid’s orbit and without them, precise calculations cannot be made.

Another unknown is the way sunlight affects the asteroid’s orbit, either through heating the asteroid or the pressure of sunlight itself. Russia has announced tentative plans to land a tracking beacon on Apophis sometime after 2020, so that its orbit can be much more precisely followed from Earth.

Discovery News put into perspective why keeping close tabs on Apophis is important to astronomers. It described the asteroid as more than three football fields in length with power of 100,000 Hiroshima-size atomic bombs. It stated that a direct hit would be enough to kill 10 million people.

Still, if you consider the distance between Earth and Apophis when it will pass on Jan. 9 small potatoes, perhaps you’ll be more interested in another asteroid — 2012 DA14 — which although smaller than will come within 34,000 kilometers in February, according to the Huffington Post.

Featured image via Shutterstock.com

(H/T: The Daily Beast)