Scientists Get Ready for Dangerous Asteroid Approaching Earth

The asteroid known as Apophis is scheduled to come quite close to Earth in five years, and scientists are preparing for this once-in-a-lifetime observation opportunity. Ten times closer than the Moon, Apophis will fly past Earth at a distance of less than 20,000 miles. The flyby is scheduled for April 13, 2029, and because of its close approach, scientists will be able to dispatch expeditions to meet and investigate the space rock.

Aiming To Steer Clear Of Impact

When the 1,100-foot-wide asteroid Apophis was initially found in 2004, it was considered a possible threat to Earth. Scientists discovered through additional observation that it would take at least another century for it to have a probability of striking Earth. We absolutely want to avoid an impact for as long as possible, given the enormity of Apophis.

How the Planet may Safeguard Itself

Through Apophis, scientists seek to discover whether the asteroid’s composition, spin, and orientation may be affected by Earth’s gravitational field. The possible modifications to the asteroid before and after the 2029 encounter will be compared. Regarding the means of obtaining the necessary data, missions have previously been proposed by private businesses such as Blue Origin and Exploration Labs.

Asteroid Mission Scheduled

During the most recent European Space Agency workshop, both businesses presented their plans for an asteroid rendezvous mission. The Blue Origin proposal calls for delivering payloads containing equipment and spacecraft to the Apophis via a Blue Ring orbital platform so that the appropriate observations can be made. Exploration Labs, in the meantime, suggested that spacecraft may be sent to Apophis as part of Distributed Radar Observations of internal Distributions, or DROID, to conduct an internal scan of the asteroid.

How Private Businesses Can Assist

While it would be intriguing to observe if these private businesses were given the opportunity to assist in the study of asteroids, NASA is already making preparations for Apophis’ approach on its own. The OSIRIS-APEX probe from NASA has already been dispatched to study the asteroid. Once samples from the Utah-based asteroid Bennu were dropped off, the spacecraft was reconfigured for its new mission.

Probes are Prepared for Use

Two further NASA spacecraft are prepared to be converted for use in asteroid research. Two probes were scheduled to be sent out by the Janus expedition for exploration trips in 2022 and 2023, however due to delays and scheduling conflicts, they are currently being stored away. Alternatively, though, the two probes may be employed for an Apophis mission, enabling them to fly by and record some observations.

NASA Is Prepared for a Seldom Occurrence

Of course, there will still be more mission ideas and equipment repurposing in the five years that remain until the Apophis asteroid encounter occurs. It is extremely rare for an asteroid to travel so close to Earth, so whatever information scientists can get from these missions will surely be crucial to our understanding of asteroid paths and nearby objects. Though all we now know about the private firm bids and NASA’s intentions for the mission is preliminary, more details regarding this event will undoubtedly be revealed soon, so stay tuned.