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The asteroid “Apophis” comes incredibly close to Earth – “a great natural experiment”

The asteroid “Apophis” comes incredibly close to Earth – “a great natural experiment”

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A giant asteroid called Apophis will come closer to Earth than its geostationary satellites. A rare event is astonishing researchers around the world.

Munich – The asteroid Apophis has a bad reputation because for many years researchers have calculated a certain probability that it might hit Earth soon. However, these possibilities have been eliminated in 2021, and Apophis is expected to miss Earth for at least the next 100 years. This also applies to April 13, 2029, the day the asteroid bearing the name of the ancient Egyptian “god of chaos” will make its incredibly close approach to Earth. For a short time there will only be about 30,000 kilometers between Apophis and Earth – the ring of geostationary satellites farthest from Earth.

(99942) Apophis
Asteroid (Aten type)
About 350 metres
324 days
June 19, 2004
Roy Tucker, David J. Tohlen and Fabrizio Bernardi (Kit Peak National Observatory)
It will approach Earth on April 13, 2029, at a distance of about 30,000 km

The asteroid “Apophis” will approach Earth at a distance of about 30,000 kilometers in 2029

But experts are confident that Apophis will not hit the Earth on this day either. Today – Friday the 13th of all days – is said to be the “lucky day” for research. After all, an asteroid of this size (Apophis is 350 meters in diameter) only approaches Earth every 1,000 years. mentioned In the past, research missions have traveled millions of kilometers into space to study asteroids. Recently, NASA's OSIRIS-REx space probe brought samples from the asteroid Bennu to Earth.

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This time it seems easier to study an asteroid, as you won't have to travel as far. Therefore, scientists are studying how to explore Apophis using different missions.

NASA sends the Osiris Apex space probe to the asteroid Apophis

The Osiris-Apex mission is already underway. This is the “Osiris Rex” space probe, which was given a new name after the end of its journey to “Bennu” and is now tracking the asteroid “Apophis.” NASA's space probe is scheduled to reach the asteroid shortly after its closest approach to Earth and monitor how its surface changes. “Getting close to Earth is a great natural experience,” said Danny Mendoza Dellagiostina, principal investigator for Osiris Apex at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

On April 13, 2029, the asteroid Apophis will reach a distance of 31,000 kilometers from Earth. The simulation shows the Earth and its satellite ring (light blue dots). The orbit of Apophis is shown in yellow. © NASA/JPL, Caltech

There are other missions planned to the asteroid Apophis, although it is still unclear whether they can be carried out. The problem is that the development of a space probe that is supposed to reach Apophis in time for a flyby must begin immediately. However, there is still no clarity on financing. While NASA says it does not have the budget for another Apophis mission, ESA is studying two concepts.

The European Space Agency could envision two missions to Apophis, but funding remains unclear

The Satis mission will be a smaller cube mission that can meet Apophis and demonstrate different technologies. The second mission being considered is Ramses, which will benefit from the technology and expertise of the European Space Agency's Hera mission. This would save time and money for development.

Apophis missions are also being developed in Germany

Also in Germany, intensive work is being done on concepts important to the approaching asteroid. A research team from the Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg (JMU) is investigating how to search for Apophis with the support of funding from the Federal Ministry of Economy. As part of the “NEAlight” project. Three concepts are currently being developed:

  • the First concept It stipulates that a small satellite will accompany the asteroid “Apophis” for two months on its way to the closest point to Earth and for several weeks after that. The changes that occurred on the asteroid will be documented photographically and examined using various measurements. The challenge is that a small satellite must cover a large distance and operate largely autonomously.
  • the The second concept It includes participation in the “Ramses” mission planned by the European Space Agency. It is possible that one of the small satellites of the Ramses mission will come from Würzburg and explore the asteroid with other satellites. According to JMU, the technical effort will be less and the scientific knowledge gained will be greater. But it is still unclear whether the Ramses mission will be funded.
  • the The third concept The simplest: a small satellite briefly passes near Apophis and takes pictures when it is closest to Earth. This would prove that such a mission is also possible using small, inexpensive satellites. However, the task does not offer any major advantages: it would be cheap, but the observation time would be short and the cognitive gain would likely be small, according to JMU. However, one advantage is that the small satellite has to be launched a few days before Apophis arrives.
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Private space travel wants to travel to the asteroid “Apophis”.

Private space travel is also considering exploring the asteroid Apophis. Blue Origin, the space company owned by Jeff Bezos, is proposing a Blue Ring spacecraft that could deliver up to 13 different cargoes to Apophis in time before the asteroid approaches Earth. But the Blue Ring's transportation costs are not yet known, and the spacecraft has never flown before.

The asteroid Apophis will miss (
Asteroid Apophis (“God of Chaos”) will narrowly miss Earth in April 2029. (Avatar) © Picture Alliance/DPA/NASA

The missions that will actually be launched to the asteroid Apophis will be determined soon, because time is of the essence. “We have to start yesterday,” he was quoted as saying ESA employee Paolo Martino. (unpaid bill)