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Home / Science / Giant asteroid Apophis flies on Earth on Friday the 13th, 2029. For scientists, it's a happy day

Giant asteroid Apophis flies on Earth on Friday the 13th, 2029. For scientists, it's a happy day



COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The solar system has a sense of humor: A decade from now, on Friday, April 13, 2029, a large asteroid will roam the sky – but that's a cause for excitement Do not worry, scientists say.

This asteroid, called Apophis extends over 340 meters (340 meters) and will pass within 31,000 kilometers of the earth's surface. This may sound scary, but scientists think they will not hit Earth. Instead, it's a unique opportunity for scientists to truly understand asteroids near Earth.

"The excitement is that such a large object comes so close once a thousand years, so it's about the question" What is the opportunity? Richard Binzel, a planetary scientist at MIT, said yesterday (April 30) during the Planetary Defense Conference held by the International Academy of Aeronautics this week, that the proximity and size of the asteroid will also increase the brightness of the encounter, leaving Apophis Eyeballs will catch ̵

1; about two billion people should see it pass by with their naked eyes, he said

] Related: Large asteroid apophis revealed in photos

The asteroid Apophis near the Earth, the shown in yellow, will pass near Earth in the year 2029, orbiting some satellites (shown in blue) It is the orbit of the International Space Station ISS.

(Image: © NASA / JPL-Caltech)

Of course, the scientists have a full ten years to plan before the space rock finds its closest approach. This means that they have time to create a wish list with what they would like to learn, to find out what can be tackled from Earth, and dream up spacecraft that give them a place in the front row to fly by Scientists are certain that Apophis will not hit Earth in 2029, they can not rule out many decades of future collisions, and there are many other great space rockets orbiting the Sun in the neighborhood of Earth. Experts in planetary defense are following these objects and preparing techniques that could distract those who pose a threat. And data collected through Apophis may include information about what scientists know about these other asteroids, as it appears to resemble 80% of the potentially dangerous asteroids that scientists have identified.

Related: Asteroid Apophis provides a thorough shave on Earth in 2029 (infographic)

Asteroid Explorer and planetary defense experts have already done this work with a series Presentations Begin The conference highlights topics that you want to consider before the Apophis flyby of 2029.

The proposed research links the two disciplines and poses questions that are relevant to both the self-interest of humanity and our better understanding of the solar system that we live in. Take, for example, the internal structure of Apophis, which is for Engineers are an important piece of information when they try to break the space rock or move the collision course away from Earth. But this information would probably also indicate how Apophis has formed.

"One could argue, is that a science or a planetary defense?" Said Binzel. "But there is no argument, it's all one and the same."

A major topic of interest is the extent to which the earth's magnetism can distort the Apophis during the 2029 approach. Some scientists believe that earlier fly-bys also stretched space rock, and other asteroids might be similarly affected during their own approach.

A question that asteroid researchers have of critical importance to planetary defense experts is the extent to which the Sun's radiation hits Apophis's orbit. This phenomenon, called Yarkovsky Effect results from the temperature difference between the day and night sides of the asteroid.

Related: It's time to grapple seriously with NASA's asteroid threats Chief Says

The changes that the Yarkovsky effect causes in the orbit of an asteroid are so small that scientists have difficulty distinguishing the thrusts from instrument eaters. Although scientists established Apophis trajectory in 2029 at a distance of only 12 km, thousands of miles from Earth, they can not fully exclude potential effects from decades in the future – and that is partly because of uncertainty about the Yarkovsky effect.

In addition to setting some of the key priorities for the next decade, the scientists also discussed some of the highest-level mission concepts that would allow the spacecraft to visit Apophis before, during, or after its approach. 19659002] The successes of last year have placed the engineers on such a strong foundation for such missions: NASA's Mars InSight mission placed the first robotic seismometer on another planet. The first interplanetary Cubesats flew with this probe as MarCO mission . Both NASA's OSIRIS REx and Japanese Hayabusa2 have excelled near small asteroids.

All of these missions were in discussion of what scientists could send to Apophis. Several speakers discussed the possibilities offered by Cubesat missions, including missions that brought twin pairs of probes together, as MarCO did.

The scientists also proposed the idea of ​​putting a seismometer on the space rock – a design would skewer Apophis like a harpoon – to pick up tiny oscillations through the space rock that could help scientists, the internal structure of Apophis and the To understand gravity of the earth. Among the ideas is a mission that would create an artificial crater on Apophis, as Hayabusa2 did with an asteroid called Ryugu to see beneath the weathered surface of the asteroid.

However, some of these ideas may be too risky to be worthwhile, as the scientists must be sure that the manipulation would not interfere with Apophis' current, safe trajectory. "We have to be very careful, because this particular object will exert strong public and even political pressure to do nothing to change its orbit," said James Bell, a planetary scientist at Cornell University, during his presentation. "That means it's a chance for NASA and other space agencies, because it's the PR event of the decade."

And this is the cautious balance that asteroid scientists and planetary defense experts must achieve over time The Next Decade – Utilizing the Best Opportunities for Science and Public Relations – Apophis' Close Flyby Offer Without Panic or, worse, accidentally create a truly dangerous situation that did not exist.

"The world will watch," said Binzel. "It's up to us to prepare."

Mail Meghan Bartels at mbartels@space.com or follow her @meghanbartels . Follow us on Twitter @SpaceTotcom and Facebook .


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