- Education and Science»
- Astronomy & Space Exploration
The Asteroid Apophis
The solar system is a hazardous place, there are comets, solar flares, meteorites and asteroids. Any of these hazards can be a quick end to our civilization and for that matter our species. Should asteroid Apophis hit the earth, although it would not be an extinction event, an impact would be catastrophic, with major loss of life.
To Close for Comfort
The year is 2029 and a light streaks across the noon sky. Apart from the sun, it is the brightest light in the sky and people looking at were mesmerized by it. This could easily be the scene as the 25 million ton asteroid Apophis hurtled breathtakingly close to earth.
Apophis tumbles past the earth, with the odd micro-changes in its path, as it continues safely back into space to orbit around the sun. The year is 2029 but technology is fallible, and if Apophis struck Earth the results would be catastrophic The solar system is a hostile place and the asteroid Apophis proves how hostile it really is. There was a 1 in 45,000 chance it could have struck the earth. For now the threat is diminished.
Apophis in 2004
The asteroid Apophis was discovered at the Kitt Peak Observatory by Roy A. Tucker., David J., and Tholen Fabrizio Bernardi on 14 June, 2004. At that time Apophis was believed to have a 2.7% chance of striking the earth. The latest observations show this is unlikely to happen. Apophis is 325 m (1,066 ft) wide, is oblong in shape and stone-like in composition. Apophis was later tracked by the planetary radar telescope at Arecibo in 2005 and again in 2006, allowing for a more accurate determining of its obit. Radar readings also show the surface of Apophis is also smoother than other Near Earth Asteroids.
Apophis belongs to the Aten group of asteroids. These asteroids orbit around the sun, which often bring them close the earth. The Aten groups of asteroids are hard to track visually, because they are hidden by the glare of the sun.
The moon is about 22,364 miles (384,000 km?) from Earth and in April 2029 Apophis will pass even closer to earth, making it easily visible. If there is no change in its orbit, the asteroid will appear as a 3.3 magnitude light moving harmlessly across the sky.
Although there is a 98% chance the asteroid Apophis will miss striking the Earth, the effects of solar radiation (sunlight), the gravity of other asteroids, its spin and other computational factors, could radically alter its trajectory. The year 2029 is not that far off, by then we will know if the estimates have been correct. The next time we see Apophis will be 2036, but its orbit will take it a few million miles away from Earth.
Should Apophis make impact on land or slam into the oceans, the consequences would be devastating. An air-burst of the asteroid Apophis will yield an explosive force of 750 megatons- The Sentry Risk Table.
Will Apophis strike the Earth in 2036?
A Possible Impact in 2036
Apophis will fly quite close to earth in 2029, within five earth radii, and pass harmlessly into space. Apophis could, however, fly through a region of space called the gravitational keyhole, bringing it on a collision course with Earth on April 13, 2036.