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Demon Asteroid: Get Ready To Duck – Some Day …

  • January 12th, 2013
  • Posted by EUEditor

hasteroid-apophis-esa.jpgThe asteroid Apophis  – adopting an ancient Greek name for a mythological Egyptian demon – periodically creates a scare, with its trajectories sometimes getting rather close, in “space” terms, to planet Earth.

In 2004 some scientists calculated a 2.7% chance that it would strike in 2029, causing the devastation of perhaps one-hundred atomic bombs – a figure of 800 megatonnes is mentioned.

A recount at the time indicated that a collision (perhaps Armageddon, even the consignment of  humankind to the fate of the dinosaurs), was actually far less likely to occur – and Apophis could whoosh past unnoticed by most people on  the planet.

But, it keeps coming back, and doomsday scenarios keep reappearing.

This week it was spotted and plotted by the European Space Agency, from  its Herschel Space Observatory (see three-tone picture from ESA). They wanted to look at projections being made that it could have a dangerously close encounter with the Earth in 2036.

herschel_space_observatory.jpg“Obtaining improved physical parameters for Apophis and its orbit is thus of great importance in being able to make better predictions of its future trajectory”, said the ESA.

The Herschel laboratory is a space telescope launched in  2009, set to continue in  operation until later this year (picture).

Current estimates in the scientific community say that Apophis has less than one chance in over seven million of getting into the collision zone, some 800 kilometres from Earth, in the “target” year.

Yet, as the European physicists are saying, we could do well to know more about this object and its movements.

There’s even a handful of other asteroids that could get closer.

Worse coming to worst, climate change doubters, though lonely in the pursuit,  might herald the arrival of the big bang:- “See!? The atmosphere did not kill off the planet after all!”

Asteroids are rocky or metallic, and join us in orbiting the Sun.

While somewhat larger than first thought at its discovery in 2004, Apophis is not considered big enough to actually destroy Earth, but could “disrupt” human existence. Presently traveling past Earth about 14.5-million kilometers away, it is 325 metres in diameter, and the best information available on its mass from scientific readings is  26.99E9 kg. First designated 2004 MN4, it’s officially called 99942 Apophis

Reference

European Space Agency, Paris, “Herschel intercepts asteroid Apophis”, 9.1.13. http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Herschel_intercepts_asteroid_Apophis, (12.1.13).

Tariq Malik, “Huge asteroid Apophis won’t hit Earth in 2036”,  Mother Nature Network, Atlanta, 10.1.13. http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/space/stories/huge-asteroid-apophis-wont-hit-earth-in-2036, (12.1.13).

Pictures     esa, wikipedia

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