NASA is already gearing up for the flyby of the asteroid Apophis on April 13, 2029, despite it being almost a decade away. Apophis, which is 340 metres wide, is set to pass Earth at a staggeringly close distance of 31,200 kilometres (19,400 miles) in 2029, and while NASA has ruled out the possibility of it hitting Earth, it will skim the orbital paths of some satellites.
According to experts, the close approach will give NASA the perfect chance to study potentially hazardous asteroids from the comfort of their own planet.
NASA chief Jim Bridenstine said on Twitter: “April 13, 2029: the 1,100 foot wide Apophis asteroid will come so close to Earth it will pass below some satellites.
“NASA and @SpaceForceDoD will work together to enhance how we detect near-Earth objects and develop strategies for mitigating threats.”
When Apophis passes Earth, it will be visible to the naked eye, according to NASA.
NASA said: “On April 13, 2029, a speck of light will streak across the sky, getting brighter and faster.
“At one point it will travel more than the width of the full Moon within a minute and it will get as bright as the stars in the Little Dipper.
“But it won’t be a satellite or an airplane – it will be a 1,100-foot-wide (340-meter-wide) near-Earth asteroid called 99942 Apophis that will cruise harmlessly by Earth, about 19,000 miles (31,000 kilometers) above the surface.
“That’s within the distance that some of our spacecraft that orbit Earth.”
When the space rock was first discovered in 2004, NASA was concerned that it would hit Earth in 2029, stating there was a 2.7 percent chance of impacting the planet.
However, by studying its orbit of the Sun, the space agency was eventually able to effectively rule this impact out.
Experts at NASA will use the next few flybys of Apophis, with the following one coming in 2068, to study the asteroid and its flight path in better detail.
Radar NASA scientist Marina Brozovic said: “The Apophis close approach in 2029 will be an incredible opportunity for science.”
Astronomer Davide Farnocchia added: “We already know that the close encounter with Earth will change Apophis’ orbit.
“But our models also show the close approach could change the way this asteroid spins and it is possible that there will be some surfaces changes, like small avalanches.”
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