Scientists Prepare For Hazardous Asteroid Heading Towards Earth

By Douglas Helm | Published


In five years, the asteroid dubbed Apophis will make a scarily close pass by Earth, and scientists are getting ready for this once-in-a-lifetime observation event. Apophis will pass by less than 20,000 miles from Earth, which is ten times closer than the Moon. The flyby is due to happen on April 13, 2029, and the proximity will allow scientists to send missions to rendezvous with the space rock and learn more about it.

Trying To Avoid Impact

city killer asteroid

The 1,100-foot-wide Apophis asteroid was first discovered in 2004 and marked as a potential hazard to Earth. Through further observation, scientists learned that it would be at least another century before it could have a chance of hitting Earth. Given the size of Apophis, we definitely want to avoid an impact as long as possible.

How Earth Can Defend Itself

space tourism

Scientists hope to learn from Apophis whether Earth’s gravitational field can impact the asteroid’s orientation, composition, and spin. They plan to compare the asteroid’s potential changes before and after the 2029 flyby. As for how they’ll get the data they need, private companies like Blue Origin and Exploration Labs have already proposed missions.

Planned Mission To The Asteroid

Both companies made their pitch for an asteroid rendezvous mission at the recent European Space Agency workshop. The Blue Origin plan involves using a Blue Ring orbital platform to deliver payloads to the Apophis containing instruments and spacecraft to make the necessary observations. Meanwhile, Exploration Labs proposed that Distributed Radar Observations of Interior Distributions, or DROID, could send spacecraft to Apophis that would perform a scan of the asteroid’s interior.

How Private Companies Can Help

It would be interesting to see if these private companies get a chance to help with the observation of asteroids, but in the meantime, NASA is taking its own steps to prepare for Apophis’ arrival. NASA has already sent its OSIRIS-APEX spacecraft to observe the asteroid. The spacecraft was repurposed for its new mission after dropping off samples from the Bennu asteroid in Utah.

Probes Are Ready To Go

NASA planetary defense

NASA also has two other spacecraft ready to be repurposed for asteroid study. The Janus mission was supposed to send two probes out in 2022 and 2023 for exploration missions, but delays and timing issues led it to be stored away for the time being. But now the two probes could be used for an Apophis mission instead, allowing them to do a flyby and make some observations.

NASA Is Ready For This Rare Event

Of course, there are still five years between now and the Apophis asteroid’s flyby, so there are sure to be more mission proposals and equipment repurposing between now and then. Apophis passing so close by is an incredibly rare event, and the data that scientists will be able to glean from these missions will undoubtedly be invaluable for our understanding of close Earth objects and asteroid trajectories. While the initial information about NASA’s plans for the mission and the private company proposals are all we know for now, there are sure to be more announcements about this event in the near future, so stay tuned.

Subscribe for Science News
Get More Real But Weird

Science News

Expect a confirmation email if you Subscribe.