In exactly 7 years from today, a huge asteroid will come closer to Earth than some of our satellites. Should NASA visit it?

In exactly seven years from today, April 13, 2029, the “Potentially Hazardous Asteroid” (PHA) called Apophis will pass inside the orbits of our geosynchronous satellites.

That’s about 23,000 miles/37,000 kilometers from the Earth’s surface.

Is it close.

Apophis is huge. Discovered in 2005, it is estimated to be around 1,100 feet/340 meters in diameter. It’s about as tall as the Empire State Building in Manhattan, New York.

An asteroid as large as the one approaching Earth like Apophis will be estimated to be a once-in-a-thousand-year event.

We’re safe…for now.

Apophis won’t hit our planet on April 13, 2029, but scientists think the effect on it of the close pass could be to alter its trajectory, and dangerously so. It is possible that the rocking of the Earth places it on a resonant impact trajectory with the Earth around 2060 or 2068.

NASA doubts it, but given that Apophis could well cause a disaster in 40 years, should we use the near 2029 shave to find out more about it?

That’s the theory behind the Apophis 2029 Planetary Defense Mission (PDM), a concept that was released last year and is currently being studied as part of the Decadal Survey for Planetary Science and Astrobiology, a report compiled by the National Academy of Sciences which will outline NASA’s priorities for the next 10 years. It will be released on April 19, 2022.

The 2029 close passage of Apophis is a rare opportunity to visit, say the authors, who propose that NASA launch a spacecraft to perform vital measurements in the name of planetary defense.

“To be able to observe the changes that may be induced by the close approach to Earth, the PDM of Apophis 2029 must meet Apophis a few months before the close approach,” reads the article. He will remain at Apophis for several months afterwards.

Any spacecraft should launch in late 2027 and arrive at Apophis in late 2028, the paper said.

The main objectives of the mission for Apophis 2029 PDM would be to:

  • conduct impact risk assessments.
  • determine its physical properties.
  • determine its internal structure.
  • map its entire surface before and after the Earth flyby.

After all, if there’s even a remote chance that Apophis could be pushed into a new trajectory that will see him collide with Earth in the year 2068, then we better now find out what he’s up to. done – and exactly how to deflect or disrupt it onto a new course.

It’s also an unmissable opportunity for astronomers and planetary scientists to get an up-close view of the true relic of the formation of the solar system.

Either way, the Apophis 2029 PDM would be an intriguing follow-on mission to the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), the first-ever planetary defense mission from NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). It crashes a 500kg spacecraft into binary asteroid 65803 Didymos and its moon Dimorphos (also called, rather cutely, “Didymoon”.

DART was launched in November 2021 and will arrive at Didymos and Dimorphos in September and in October will crash into Dimorphos at around 15,000 miles per hour.

The plan is to change its orbital speed by 0.4mm/s, which will alter Didymos’ trajectory slightly, not because it’s dangerous for Earth, but because it might be a skill NASA will have to use. one day to grow a huge PHA… like, maybe, Apophis.

I wish you clear skies and big eyes.

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