'God of Chaos' asteroid plummeting towards Earth

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An artist's impression of the Apophis asteroid
An artist's impression of the Apophis asteroid
Bob Bello, WikiCommons

Hold your breath. A massive asteroid called Apophis after the ancient Egyptian god of chaos is hurtling towards us and will sneak past us on Friday and Saturday.

According to earthsky.org this flyby is a precursor to the “tantalizingly close sweep” Apophis will make in 2029.

Apophis is plummeting towards earth at  4.658 kilometres per second.

But don’t worry too much just yet.

Earthsky.org says while there’s no chance Apophis will strike Earth at this flyby (when closest, it’ll be about 44 times the moon’s distance), the asteroid will be within range of earthly telescopes and radar.

Astronomers will be tracking its movements.

Asteroid Apophis will sweep closest to our planet on in the early hours of Saturday morning at 03.15 am South African time. At this 2021 pass, it’ll come within  just 16,852,369 kilometres of Earth.

According to Nasa, the asteroid, which is the size of three-and-a-half football fields, was discovered in 2004.

"...We have effectively ruled out the possibility of an Earth impact by Apophis in 2036."
Don Yeomans, manager of Nasa's Near-Earth Object Program Office at JPL

It “gathered the immediate attention of space scientists and the media when initial calculations of its orbit indicated a 2.7 percent possibility of an Earth impact during a close flyby in 2029”.

Nasa said data discovered during a search of old astronomical images provided the additional information required to rule out the 2029 impact scenario, but a remote possibility of one in 2036 remained – until last year.

“…We have effectively ruled out the possibility of an Earth impact by Apophis in 2036," said Don Yeomans, manager of Nasa's Near-Earth Object Program Office at JPL. "The impact odds as they stand now are less than one in a million, which makes us comfortable saying we can effectively rule out an Earth impact in 2036. Our interest in asteroid Apophis will essentially be for its scientific interest for the foreseeable future."

The April 13, 2029, flyby of asteroid Apophis will be one for the record books. On that date, Apophis will become the closest flyby of an asteroid of its size when it comes no closer than 31 300 kilometres above Earth's surface, said Nasa.

Nasa detects and tracks asteroids and comets passing close to Earth using both ground and space-based telescopes. The Near-Earth Object Observations Program, commonly called "Spaceguard," discovers these objects, characterizes a subset of them and plots their orbits to determine if any could be potentially hazardous to our planet.

For more information about asteroids and near-Earth objects, visit: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/asteroidwatch Updates about near-Earth objects are also available by following AsteroidWatch on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/asteroidwatch .

The Virtual Telescope Project in Rome is offering a free online viewing session for asteroid Apophis on March 5-6, 2021. 

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