Marina Brozovic, leading the radar campaign at the Deep Space Network’s Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California, has captured images of asteroid 99942, also referred to as Apophis. It is an asteroid with a diameter of more than 1,100 feet (approximately 340 meters).
When Brozovic captured Apophis’s images, the asteroid was roughly 10.6 million miles (approximately 17 million kilometers) away.
The resolution of this radar was so good that Brozovic could see the asteroid from 10.6 million miles away. She stated, “If we had binoculars as powerful as this radar, we could sit in Los Angeles and read a dinner menu from a restaurant in New York.”
Brozovic thinks that when the asteroid gets closer to Earth in 2029, researchers will be able to see it better with the help of this radar and better technology.
When Apophis gets its closest to Earth in 2029, it will move at more than 10,000 miles per hour and pass within 20,000 miles. That is closer than our Moon, and people will be able to see it with their own eyes.
Predicted to whizz past within 20,000 miles of Earth, Apophis is no threat this time!
The Apophis asteroid discovered in 2004 will approach closer to Earth than any other asteroid this decade. There was a brief period in 2004 when experts estimated a 2.7% probability that Apophis would crash into Earth on April 13, 2029.
There is no dispute that Apophis will pass Earth closer than most artificial satellites in 2029 and again in 2068, but experts are less worried now. Farnocchia representing NASA has said, “our calculations don’t show any impact risk for at least the next 100 years.”
Put in context, the Moon is about 239,000 miles (384,000 kilometers) from Earth. The Moon, even at that distance, can influence tidal patterns on the Earth.
Any sizeable asteroids that pass within 1 million miles of Earth immediately become of significant interest to astronomers, especially those traveling closer than the Moon’s orbit.
Asteroids traveling within a lunar distance (239k miles) are hazardous since they are subjected to the Earth’s gravitational pull and have a greater chance of colliding with the planet’s surface. The amount of pull they get might be the difference between life and civilization-ending disaster.
In the worst-case scenario, if Apophis did hit Earth, it would be the equivalent of 670 Hiroshima bombs. Reporters such as Joeffler (writing for interestingengineering.com) think human civilization would be able to survive an asteroid hit from Apophis, albeit we would not be in the best of shape afterward.
For context, Joeffer describes the Tunguska asteroid, which burst over Russian Siberia in 1908 and is thought to have been a 90-foot-wide. This event generated a 12-megaton blast that destroyed Siberian woods for hundreds of miles around ground zero. Although an air detonation, it would have been fatal for anyone caught in the blast radius, blasting like a cosmic shotgun toward Earth. This is the equivalent of around 185 Hiroshima bombs.
It wasn’t always clear to experts that Apophis was no threat to Earth
Davide Farnocchia, an expert of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), part of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), said that when he first started studying asteroids,,, after college, Apophis was the poster child for hazardous asteroids. The uncertainty in Apophis’ orbit has meant experts in the past have changed their projections of how close it would come to Earth.
Thanks to new optical measurements and further radar data, we can now remove Apophis from the risk list since we better understand its position in 2029 and can predict its future motion.
According to NASA, according to new trajectory calculations, it is doubtful that Apophis will be dangerous to Earth in 2068 when it was initially feared it could be a danger. The thinking probably goes that anyone reading this won’t be alive or too old to worry about it after then. However, in hundreds of years, people might be grateful to Musk for his efforts to get people to colonize Mars.
In 2029 Apophis will come closer to Earth than any asteroid in decades, but people shouldn’t be alarmed. Apophis is unlikely to pose a threat to humans for a long time. Other hazards may be lurking in the shadows, but Apophis isn’t one of them.
Are near-earth objects a top priority for governments?
Loeffler thinks that we can be assured that Apophis will not collide with Earth. He advises that Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) are a top priority for government agencies around the world, including NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), which is sensible given their potentially catastrophic consequences.
Readers may have a different view from Loeffler about what is a top priority in space for governments. The priority in space seems to be focused on allegiances to mine resources on asteroids and the Moon. Russia has been cooperating less with the US in international space projects since the war in Ukraine. There is also a global arms race for military supremacy in space.