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A ‘God of Chaos’ Asteroid Could Hit Earth in 2068


A report suggests an asteroid named after the Egyptian God of Chaos, Apophis, may get uncomfortably close to Earth in 2068. Scientists studying the asteroid have determined that it has sped due to an orbital mechanism known as the Yarkovsky effect.

“The new observations we obtained with the Subaru telescope earlier this year were good enough to reveal the Yarkovsky acceleration of Apophis,” astronomer Dave Tholen, of the University of Hawaii, said in a statement. “[T]hey show that the asteroid is drifting away from a purely gravitational orbit by about 170 meters per year, which is enough to keep the 2068 impact scenario in play.”


Apophis, found by Tholen and his team in 2004, is also scheduled to pass by Earth in 2029. Fortunately, calculations have shown there’s no chance it will slam into our planet then. Apophis will come so close to Earth on April 13, 2029, that the 1,000-foot-wide asteroid will pass between our globe and a network of communication satellites. Here’s the most unsettling part: It’ll be visible to the naked eye.

Astronomers had previously ruled out the chance of a collision with Earth in 2068. The new observations, which the scientists reported earlier this year at a virtual American Astronomical Society meeting, have revealed an unexpected possibility: a collision.

So why the change in orbit? As they travel through the solar system, asteroids absorb sunlight. To maintain thermal equilibrium, an asteroid will emit solar energy in the form of heat. This generates a force that forces them to speed, changing the asteroid’s orbit. Here’s more about the Yarkovsky effect:

NASA and other space agencies are constantly on the lookout for potentially hazardous objects with the capacity to alter orbit. This is especially important in the case of asteroids like Apophis, which are expected to pass very close to Earth. Fortunately, we’re preparing for this exact scenario.

Next year’s DART mission will conduct a critical dress rehearsal in which a small spacecraft will slam into a tiny asteroid in an attempt to knock it off course. It’s only a dry run, but it will give the world’s space agencies heaps of data that could be used to build a deterrent for rogue asteroids that may suddenly find themselves on a collision course with Earth.

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