The ominously-named Apophis asteroid could have hundreds of opportunities to hit the Earth over the course of the next century, Russian scientists have warned.
Named after the Ancient Egyptian god of evil, darkness and destruction, Apophis 99942 is expected to come within 37,600km (23,363 miles) of the Earth, just a tenth of the distance between our planet and the moon, in 2029.
Researchers from the Department of Celestial Mechanics at St. Petersburg State University have warned that the 370-meter-wide near-Earth orbit space rock could smash into the planet at a speed of 7.43km per second sometime in 2068. However, to be on track for such a strike, it would somehow have to thread the cosmic needle of passing through a two-meter wide area of space during its 2029 close-Earth flyby.
“The [asteroid’s] approach causes a significant scattering of possible trajectories, among them trajectories indicating convergence in 2051,” the report says. “Further orbital resonance reentries contain a great number (about one hundred) possible collisions between Apophis and the Earth, the most dangerous of them in 2068.”
The asteroid will make several close flybys, increasing the risk of cosmic debris to orbiting satellites. The huge space rock will reportedly come within 16 million kilometers of our planet in 2044, 760,000km in 2051, within five million kilometers in 2060, and ‘just’ 100,000km in 2068.
If it does pass through the two-meter wide ‘keyhole’ during the projected 2029 flyby, it would mean an impact sometime in 2068 (though the odds of this happening are somewhere in the region of about one in 2.3 million).
The Russian team’s findings will be presented at the Korolev Readings on Cosmonautics to be held in Moscow later this month.
Contingency plans to destroy the potential threat using nuclear weapons have already been devised by researchers from Tomsk State University in Siberia using a supercomputer. However, the latest Russian research runs contrary to multiple NASA calculations and revisions from back in 2013.
“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,”explained Don Yeomans, manager of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office at JPL.