Scientists Want To Monitor An Asteroid That Could Hit Earth In 2068
Most asteroids flying past the Earth are nothing the worry about. But every so often one comes along that NASA decides to keep an eye on.
Asteroid Apophis is one of those asteroids, and scientists say they can’t rule out the rock colliding with Earth within the next half a century.
There’s no need to worry just yet. Scientists say there’s a slim chance the asteroid known as the ‘God of Chaos’ will actually set on a collision course with Earth – just 1 in 150,000 – and besides, they’ve got until 2068 to figure out what to do if it does.
But that doesn’t mean they’re not taking it seriously. If an asteroid the size of Apophis was to crash into the Earth, it would have the equivalent impact of an atomic bomb going off, so scientists want to plan for the worst case scenario.
The 370-metre asteroid was first observed in 2004, when it was put on NASA’s Sentry list of ‘potentially hazardous asteroids’. It’s set to fly by at a close, but safe, distance in 2029, and scientists say it’s vital they use the opportunity to get a closer look at it.
Research conducted by two astronomers at the University of Hawaii has suggested that Apophis’s trajectory is affected by heat from the sun, which according to one of the researchers, ‘basically means that the 2068 impact scenario is still in play.’
As a result of this uncertainty, David Tholen said:
We need to track this asteroid very carefully – obviously the 2029 close approach is critical.
Earlier this month, the Lunar and Planetary Institute held a workshop to explore approaches to studying the asteroid when it passes in nine years time. Whether scientists can send a dedicated mission to the asteroid, or simply observe it using ground and satellite-based telescopes, they say it’s a rare opportunity to learn more about the potentially unwelcome visitor.
The Institute said in a statement:
Knowledge is the first line of planetary defence, and the 2029 Apophis encounter is a once-per-thousand-year opportunity.
We have less than a decade to plan Earth-based and possible in-situ missions whose measurements can deliver unprecedented detailed knowledge on the physical nature of Apophis as the prototype example (poster child) of potentially hazardous asteroids.
The idea of us going the way of the dinosaurs in is a pretty scary thought, so it’s reassuring to know that there are plenty of people already working on making sure it doesn’t happen anytime soon.
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