Asteroid Apophis, named after the Greek god of chaos and darkness won’t affect Earth for at least a century. Since it was discovered in 2004, asteroid 99942 Apophis was considered hazardous, potentially impacting Earth. After carefully analyzing the orbit of the asteroid, scientists have come to the conclusion that this is not the case.
Previously, there were predictions that the 1100 feet wide asteroid Apophis might come too close to our planet in 2029, 2036 and could possibly impact Earth in 2068.
On 5th March 2021, the asteroid passed by Earth at a distance of 10 million miles. This gave astronomers a chance to gain better insight into the orbit of the asteroid Apophis around the sun. They found that there is no risk of Apophis impacting our planet in 2068. Concerns about 2029 and 2036 were already redressed after prediction refinements and research.
Davide Farnocchia, the navigation engineer and researcher at NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), said in a statement, “A 2068 impact is not in the realm of possibility anymore, and our calculations don’t show any impact risk for at least the next 100 years.”
Farnocchia further said, “With the support of recent optical observations and additional radar observations, the uncertainty in Apophis’ orbit has collapsed from hundreds of kilometres to just a handful of kilometres when projected to 2029. This greatly improved knowledge of its position in 2029 and provides more certainty of its future motion, so we can now remove Apophis from the risk list.”
Studying Asteroid Apophis
The CNEOS Center keeps a risk list, tracking asteroids that could potentially impact Earth because of their orbits. To do this, scientists use radar and telescope to study objects near Earth. The centre is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Deep space Network’s Goldstone radio antenna near Barstow, California was used to study the asteroid Apophis. There are only three such dishes that enable communications across deep space with spacecraft. They also collaborated with the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia.
Marina Brozovic, a scientist at JPL said in a statement, “Although Apophis made a recent close approach with Earth, it was still nearly 10.6 million miles away. Even so, we were able to acquire incredibly precise information about its distance to an accuracy of about 150 meters (490 feet). This campaign not only helped us rule out any impact risk, but it also set us up for a wonderful science opportunity.”
Even though the images were a little fuzzy, the resolution was really good considering asteroid Apophis was 17 million miles away. Brozvic further said, “If we had binoculars as powerful as this radar, we would be able to sit in Los Angeles and read a dinner menu at a restaurant in New York.” The data will also enable scientists to learn more about the shape and rotation rate of Apophis. It is currently believed that it has a shape similar to that of a peanut.
During its flyby on April 12, 2029, asteroid Apophis will encounter the gravitational field of the Earth. It will fly past the Earth at a distance of 20,000 miles, which is 10 times nearer than the Moon. In spite of this, there is no risk of it affecting our planet. The asteroid will be visible to the naked eye to people in the eastern hemisphere. Scientists will get another chance to observe the asteroid closely.
“When I started working with asteroids after college, Apophis was the poster child for hazardous asteroids,” Farnocchia said. “There’s a certain sense of satisfaction to see it removed from the risk list, and we’re looking forward to the science we might uncover during its close approach in 2029.”