Asteroid Named After ‘God Of Chaos’ Headed To Earth Is Picking Up Speed
An asteroid named after an ancient Egyptian god of chaos is picking up speed as it heads towards Earth; fitting news for a year that feels like it’s been entirely controlled by a god of chaos.
The 330-metre-wide object, named Apophis after the Egyptian serpent god determined to swallow the Sun, was first discovered in 2004 by researchers at the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy.
The team have been tracking the asteroid ever since, and they have determined that it will have a close approach with Earth in 2029 before potentially impacting our planet in 2068.
Astronomers had previously thought there was no chance of a potential impact in 2068, but things changed when researchers discovered Apophis was increasing in speed. The asteroid is now under the ‘Yarkovsky effect’, which means some parts of the asteroid are heating up faster than others.
Researchers explained in a press release:
Prior to the detection of Yarkovsky acceleration on Apophis, astronomers had concluded that a potential impact with Earth in 2068 was impossible.
The detection of this effect acting on Apophis means that the 2068 impact scenario is still a possibility.
Dave Tholen, a member of the team at the University of Hawaii, explained that the realisation came as a result of observations obtained with the Subaru telescope earlier this year.
We have known for some time that an impact with Earth is not possible during the 2029 close approach.
The new observations… were good enough to reveal the Yarkovsky acceleration of Apophis, and they show that the asteroid is drifting away from a purely gravitational orbit by about 170 metres per year, which is enough to keep the 2068 impact scenario in play.
Astronomers are now conducting observations to gain more information about the amplitude of the Yarkovksy effect and the way it affects Apophis’s orbit to determine the chances of an impact.
In the meantime, scientists are looking on the bright side, as Apophis’s flyby in 2029 will make for a special event for astronomers.
Marina Brozović, a radar scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, previously described it as an ‘incredible opportunity for science’ in a release about the asteroid.
We’ll observe the asteroid with both optical and radar telescopes. With radar observations, we might be able to see surface details that are only a few meters in size.
Paul Chodas, director of the Center for Near Earth Objects Studies, explained that Apophis is a ‘representative of about 2,000 currently known potentially hazardous asteroids’, so its flyby could provide researchers with ‘important scientific knowledge that could one day be used for planetary defence’.
I suppose it’s reassuring to know that scientists are looking forward to Apophis’s arrival; that’s probably the best we could hope for from a serpent god looking to swallow the Sun.
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