It seems a tradition to make big headlines when a new asteroid approaches Earth. Social networks are on fire and everyone remembers the asteroid that seems to have killed off the dinosaurs.
In the case of Apophis, 99942 for its intimates, it is true that it is the object with the most probability of impact, even if they are very far away. Also the name doesn’t help. Apophis is the God of Chaos or the forces of evil of the Egyptians, which is certainly perfect for making big headlines.
Nor does its astronomical rating help: NASA classifies some Near Earth Objects as “potentially dangerous.” The cocktail is served to create alarming assumptions.
In 2008 the false news spread that a boy had corrected NASA’s calculations and that the orbit would impact the Earth, to further complicate matters.
It is true that the trajectory of Apophis has been recalculated several times. When it was discovered in 2004 it caused quite a stir because it was estimated that there was a small probability that it would impact Earth in 2029.
Its orbit around the sun lasts practically a year, and every year it visits us. Based on new calculations, NASA estimates that in 2029 it will pass to 31,000 kilometers. Very, very close in astronomical terms, but far to destroy the Earth.
Virtual Telescope has managed to capture an image of Apophis en route to Earth orbit two weeks ago.
When will Apophis pass close to Earth this weekend and at what distance?
Apophis is 324 meters long, enough to cause a good problem in case of impact.
It will pass 0.11 astronomical units of the Earth, this is about 15 million kilometers, 44 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon, around 01:15 GMT on Saturday, March 6.
Above all, it will be a golden opportunity for astronomers, although a consistent team is necessary. According to the Earthsky website, you need a telescope no less than 30 centimeters in diameter.
The Virtual Telescope page organizes a live event to follow the visit of the God of Chaos.
A brand of telescopes organizes a “citizen science” event to try to capture images of Apophis so we can surely find their achievements on social networks.
Scientists from the International Asteroid Warning Network will use their arrival as a simulation of the approach of a really dangerous asteroid, testing equipment and warning systems.
The Earth, of course, has lost its most powerful radar system, the Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico.
What will happen to Apophis’s visit in 2029?
In the year 2029 Apophis will be truly close to Earth. Enough to see it without instruments, with a clear sky. It will pass in the orbit of some satellites, between the Earth and the Moon. Astronomers are used to seeing small space rocks at this distance but not large asteroids like Apophis.
“It’s something that happens once in a thousand years so obviously it’s generating a lot of interest,” Marina Brozovic, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, told Space.com.
Still, it poses no threat to Earth, according to NASA’s latest calculations, although 31,900 kilometers is incredibly close, in astronomical dimensions.
Apophis gets bad press because apart from its name, it has been announced on several occasions that its orbit could cross that of Earth.
Like other “potentially dangerous” objects, their chances of impact on Earth are quite limited (1 in 100,000) and would not happen for many decades.
In 2029 it will offer an impressive show. It will be visible without a telescope in the southern hemisphere “it will look like a patch of light moving from east to west over Australia,” explains NASA. Then it will cross the Indian Ocean, it will cross the Equator over Africa and the Atlantic, during its moment of closest approach.
Its orbit will pass close to Earth again in 2068.
Another asteroid that won’t destroy Earth
Between that asteroid that changed the face of the Earth by sweeping away the dinosaurs and Hollywood disaster movies, near-Earth asteroids always exert a fascination.
The last was the discreet 1998 OR2, which despite its friendly intentions also caused quite a stir because its orbit crossed that of the Earth.
The defunct Arecibo Observatory was able to capture images of its somewhat disorderly approach.
Also discreet was the presence of the “mini-moon” 2020CD3, an asteroid that was not discovered until February 2020. It had been orbiting the Earth for three years, but in April gravity expelled it to other cosmic latitudes.
In 2017, the asteroidFlorence it also had its moment of glory. It was the largest to “come close” to Earth in 120 years.
That same year visited us 2014 JO25 with its peanut shape and without the slightest danger.
And special mention deserves the famous interstellar object Oumuamua, about which leading scientists still debate. There are those who maintain that it is an alien ship.
Every year there are dozens and dozens of rocks that come close to Earth.
That said, surveillance of near-Earth objects and potentially dangerous ones is not taken as a joke. NASA and the European Space Agency have launched a joint project to deflect asteroids with an impact, a bit like in the movie Armaggedon.
The reference in the matter is the Center for Near-Earth Objects CNEOS of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA, which permanently monitors and calculates the trajectories of hundreds of celestial objects thanks to the collaboration with coordinated telescopes, radars and space agencies around the world. in the International Asteroid Warning Network IAWN. Fortunately.