"God of CHAOS"
Has Close Encounter with Earth
ARISTOS GEORGIOU ON 2/12/21 AT 1:12 PM EST
Next month you will be able to watch as a huge asteroid named after an ancient Egyptian god of chaos passes through Earth’s cosmic neighborhood.
On March 5, the Virtual Telescope Project will be hosting a live stream of the asteroid, dubbed “Apophis,” as it passes within around 10 million miles of Earth.
Clearly, there is no risk of a collision from this encounter. But while it sounds like a huge distance, this is relatively close in astronomical terms.
In addition, this is the closest look that scientists will get of the rock before it makes an extremely close approach to our planet on April 13, 2029—when it will be visible with the naked eye for several hours.
On this date, the space rock—which is estimated to measure more than 1,100 feet in diameter, nearly as tall as the Empire State Building in New York City—will come within around 20,000 miles of Earth. This is very close for an asteroid and equivalent to around 10 percent of the average distance between the Earth and the moon.
The encounter will be the closest approach by any object of this size that is currently known to science, according to NASA.
“This is something that occurs about once every 1,000 years, so obviously, it is generating a lot of interest,” Marina Brozović, a radar scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, told Space.com.
Apophis was discovered in June 2004 by the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona. The object caught the attention of astronomers, who initially predicted that it had an uncomfortably high chance—2.7 percent—of colliding with the Earth in 2029. Such an impact would cause devastation on an enormous scale.
Impacts involving an object of this size occur roughly once every 80,000 years, according to a calculator created by researchers from Imperial College London in the U.K. and Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.
However, subsequent studies have found that there is practically no chance of the asteroid colliding with the Earth in 2029—or indeed in 2036 when it is scheduled to make another extremely close approach.
The most recent estimates have also reduced the risk of impact for its next close encounter with Earth in 2068, which were tiny but more than zero.
The chances of impact during the 2068 flyby are now estimated to be 1 in 380,000. Astronomer Gianluca Masi of the Virtual Telescope Project predicts that this impact probability will probably fall to zero as future data collection helps scientists better understand the object’s trajectory.