Mark your calendar for April 13, 2029: A huge asteroid will fly by earth

Dubbed Apophis, after the Egyptian God of destruction,  the giant asteroid will fly by earth at a distance of merely 18,640 miles, close enough to be seen with the naked eye

Mark your calendars for April 13, 2029, when the asteroid Apophis (officially tagged as Apophis 99942) will make a dramatic flyby, skimming past Earth at a distance of just about 18,640 miles. To put that in perspective, the moon hangs out at a comfy 238,855 miles away from us. This cosmic close encounter will make Apophis visible as a fleeting point of light in the night sky, especially over Europe, Africa and Western Asia, no telescope required.
Apophis belongs to a group of space rocks known as Aten asteroids, which orbit the sun at a distance less than that of the earth. What makes this celestial visitor particularly alarming is its sheer size – estimated at a whopping 1,115 feet in diameter. If this giant were to smack into our planet, we're talking about cataclysmic damage. Imagine it hitting us at around 28,000 miles per hour, unleashing energy comparable to over 1,000 megatons of TNT.
Jonathan Mannell, part of the brainy team at Julius Maximilian University in Würzburg, Germany, paints a grim picture. "The impact crater from Apophis would likely span several miles, with enough force to decimate an area the size of Central Europe," he esplains.
But before you start prepping your apocalypse bunker, relax. NASA assures us that there's no risk of Apophis crashing into earth for at least the next century. So, even for the superstitious, this Friday the 13th should be nothing to lose sleep over.
Discovered on June 19, 2004, by Roy Tucker, David Tholen and Fabrizio Bernardi at the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona, Apophis is named after Apep (or Apophis in Greek), the Egyptian deity symbolizing chaos and evil. This sinister name suits its hazardous classification and the vigilant monitoring of its orbit.
When Apophis was first spotted there was a 2.7% chance it might collide with earth in 2029. Thankfully, that probability has since been dialed down to zero.
Asteroids are the odd-shaped, rocky remnants orbiting the sun. Our solar system is home to about 1.3 million of these space rocks, with around 2,500 identified as potentially hazardous to Earth. These Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs) are those that come within roughly 4.5 million miles of Earth's orbit and are larger than 459 feet in diameter.
Scientists are buzzing with questions about asteroids: What are they made of? What affects their orbits? How do they behave when they drift near other celestial bodies? And just how much do these gravitational interactions alter their paths? Given that a behemoth like Apophis swings by earth once every millennium, this is a golden opportunity for research.
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אסטרואיד חולף על פני כדור הארץ
אסטרואיד חולף על פני כדור הארץ
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The NEAlight project, headed by Professor Hakan Kayal at the Julius Maximilian University in Würzburg, is diving into these mysteries. The team is prepping a small satellite to shadow Apophis for two months as it nears earth, gathering data on any changes in the asteroid using a variety of measurements. This satellite will have to operate autonomously and cover a significant distance – no small feat.
Additionally, Germany is contributing to the European RAMSES (Rapid Apophis Mission for SEcurity and Safety) mission. This mission involves deploying a larger satellite armed with smaller satellites, telescopes and an array of measuring instruments to accompany Apophis during its close approach, providing a prolonged and detailed examination.
By studying Apophis, humanity hopes to glean invaluable insights that could one day help us defend against potentially deadly asteroids. So, while Apophis' visit may sound like a plot straight out of a sci-fi thriller, it's a real-world chance for us to prepare for whatever cosmic surprises the future might hold.
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