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The asteroid “Apophis” is very close to Earth – “a great natural experiment”

The asteroid “Apophis” is very close to Earth – “a great natural experiment”

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The large asteroid Apophis, 350 meters long, will come closer to Earth than many satellites. Research for these five years has been prepared in advance.

FRANKFURT – Friday, April 13, 2029 will be a very special day for space research: then the asteroid “Apophis” (named after the ancient Egyptian god of chaos) will fly close to Earth at a distance of only about 30 thousand kilometers. Anyone who is superstitious will probably notice the date: On Friday the 13th of all days, a massive asteroid approaches Earth while geostationary satellites orbit our planet.

But history is actually a lucky day: for Earth, because numerous measurements have long confirmed that the asteroid Apophis will not hit Earth. As for research, how often does a large asteroid (Apophis is about 350 meters in diameter) happen to approach Earth? how According to experts, it is an event that only occurs once every thousand years.

(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 is approaching Earth, and at least one mission is underway to examine it

Previous research missions have traveled millions of kilometers into space to conduct research on asteroids, most recently, NASA's OSIRIS-REx space probe brought samples from the asteroid Bennu to Earth. This time, it seems easier to study an asteroid, after all, you don't have to travel so far to reach it. That's why science really wants to research Apophis and is planning different missions.

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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

The Osiris Apex mission is already underway. It is the “OSIRIS-REx” space probe, which was given a new name after the end of its journey to “Bennu” and is now chasing 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, the principal investigator for Osiris Apex at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Missions to the asteroid “Apophis”: NASA does not have the money, and the European Space Agency is developing two concepts

Further missions to the asteroid Apophis are currently being planned – but it is not yet clear whether they can be implemented. The problem: In order to get a space probe in time to fly by Earth at Apophis, development must begin almost immediately — but there is still no clarity on funding. While NASA says it does not have the budget for another Apophis mission, ESA is considering two concepts.

The asteroid Apophis will miss (
The asteroid Apophis (“God of Chaos”) will narrowly miss Earth in April 2029. (Avatar) © NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Satis mission will be a smaller cube mission that can hit Apophis and demonstrate different technologies there. The second mission being considered is called “Ramses” and will use technology and expertise from the European Space Agency’s “Hera” mission. This would save time and money for development.

A German university develops a small satellite concept for the Apophis mission

Also in Germany, people are feverishly working on concepts for the mission to dispatch the approaching asteroid. Supported by funding from the Federal Ministry of Economy, a research team from the Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg (JMU) is investigating How does one search for “Apophis”.. Three concepts are currently being developed in the NEAlight project:

  • Concept 1: A small satellite accompanies 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 team sees a particular technical challenge in the fact that the small satellite must cover a large distance and operate largely autonomously.
  • Concept 2 It intends to participate in the “Ramses” mission planned for 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.
  • Concept 3 Meaning less effort: A small satellite flies briefly near Apophis and takes pictures when it is closest to Earth. This may prove that such a mission is also possible using small, inexpensive satellites. Otherwise, the task offers no major advantages: it would be cheap, but the observation time would be short and the cognitive gain would likely be rather small, according to JMU. One advantage: it is enough for the small satellite to be launched a few days before the arrival of Apophis.
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Private space company Blue Origin also wants to visit the asteroid “Apophis”

The private sector is also considering searching for the “Apophis” asteroid. Blue Origin, the space company owned by Jeff Bezos, operates the Blue Ring space probe, which can transport up to 13 different cargoes to Apophis – just in time before the asteroid approaches Earth. It is not yet known how much transportation with the “Blue Ring” will cost.

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