According to Spacedaily.com, NASA scientists, using data from two ground-based telescopes as well as the Goldstone Solar System Radar, have concluded that the asteroid Apophis will not hit the Earth in either 2029 or 2036.
Doomsday postponed again
An examination of old observation data from the Magdalena Ridge at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology and the Pan-STARRS at the Univ. of Hawaii optical observatories has already ruled out a strike by Apophis during the 2029 close approach. Now the same data, according to Spacedaily.com, has allowed scientists to rule out a collision occurring during the 2036 approach as well. Thus NASA, which spent much of 2012 debunking the Mayan Apocalypse, has now ruled out an end of the world more based on actual science.
2029 approach to be one of the closest in history
According to Spacedaily.com, Apophis will pass the Earth by at a distance of 19,400 miles, closer than the orbits of geosynchronous satellites. In 2036, Apophis will approach at a larger distance of between 14 million and 35 million miles, according to Sky and Telescope.
Apophis discovered in 2004
According to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Apophis was discovered by R. A. Tucker, D. J. Tholen and F. Bernardi at the Kitt Peak observatory. The name, given in 2005, is after an Egyptian god associated with destruction. Based on observations conducted by the European Space Agency's Herschel telescope during Apophis's most recent encounter with Earth on Wednesday, the asteroid is estimated to be 325 meters in diameter. NASA estimates that should a collision were to occur, the resulting explosion would be in the plus-500-megaton range.
Possible missions to Apophis
Apophis has been the object of a number of space mission proposals, some designed to deflect it on a safe path should it have actually proven to be on a collision course with Earth.
The Planetary Society conducted a contest for a probe to Apophis that was won by SpaceWorks Engineering, according to the BBC. The probe, called Foresight, would follow the asteroid and precisely measure its orbit to refine the odds that it might one day hit the Earth,
The European Space Agency has a mission concept called Don Quijote that would have two elements, an asteroid orbiter and an impactor, that might be targeted to Apophis to make closer observations and to test a deflection mission. The two elements, called Sancho and Hildago respectively, would be launched separately. Sancho would serve as a relay station for Hildago, which would send back images and other data as it hits Apophis, should that asteroid be chosen as the target for a mission.
Mark R. Whittington is the author of Children of Apollo and The Last Moonwalker. He has written on space subjects for a variety of periodicals, including The Houston Chronicle, The Washington Post, USA Today, the L.A. Times, and The Weekly Standard.
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