Asteroid Apophis nearer to Earth than ever! | EUROtoday

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VS'is a novel occasion that’s looming. On Friday, April 13, 2029, an asteroid about 340 meters in diameter will go closest to Earth: nearer than another physique of this dimension earlier than it in astronomer reminiscence. Named Apophis, this near-Earth asteroid – in different phrases, one whose orbit crosses that of our planet – will brush previous us that day, inside 31,600 kilometers. That is one tenth of the gap between the Earth and the Moon!

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From Europe and Africa, two billion folks will then be capable to see it go, shining, with the bare eye. An thrilling spectacle however which additionally reminds us that at some point or one other, the sky will find yourself falling on our heads… Indeed, greater than 30,000 near-Earthers are at the moment listed and never all of them are but. So, to save lots of all or a part of humanity, will probably be essential to be able to act, to have at the least the beginnings of the start of a plan. A bit of music that scientists are enjoying in our ears on June 30, Asteroid Day, the worldwide asteroid day.

“Because if we know that the threat of an impact is not for this century, it is no less real,” remembers astrophysicist Patrick Michel, researcher on the Côte d’Azur Observatory and professional acknowledged worldwide for these small our bodies of the photo voltaic system to which he just lately devoted a podcast known as Astroroches. For instance, if Apophis had been to ever crash into us, it might simply wipe a serious metropolis off the world map, making a 2.5 km vast crater and injury effectively past that perimeter; and even when it had been to fall into the ocean, it might generate an equally devastating tsunami.

An distinctive scientific alternative

So, to arrange to counter this menace, scientists contemplate the arrival of Apophis in 2029 as an distinctive alternative to carefully research a doubtlessly harmful asteroid; and to additionally see how it’s affected by its passage close to the Earth, whose gravity generates important tidal forces. “Because what we have learned over the course of exploration missions is that these bodies defy our intuition. When you see an asteroid, you really have to touch it to understand how it reacts. »

This is why, after dropping the samples it had taken from the asteroid Bennu on Earth, NASA, the American space agency, decided to redirect its OSIRIS-REx probe, renamed OSIRIS-APEX for the occasion, towards Apophis. “But the laws of celestial mechanics are such that it will arrive a month after its encounter with Earth. It will therefore give us incredible images of the asteroid after it. It will even use its thrusters to create a surface disturbance and see what is happening. On the other hand, arriving after the fact, it will in no way be able to tell us whether the properties of Apophis have been affected by its passage near our planet,” explains the author of the book. Meeting the asteroidspublished by Odile Jacob in 2023.

This is why Patrick Michel is advocating, along with others, for a dedicated European space mission to be set up very quickly. The project consists of organizing what astrophysicists call a rendezvous between Apophis and a space probe named Ramses. That is to say, as during the Rosetta mission, the satellite will go into orbit around the small body and escort it. “To go quickly and to make it less expensive, we propose to reuse the same platform as for the ESA Hera mission, which is due to be launched in October, to go and document the result of the first asteroid deflection test carried out by NASA's Dart mission,” explains Patrick Michel, who is also the father and scientific director of Hera.

An event that will mark collective memory

The objective is for Ramses to be launched in April 2028 in order to reach Apophis at the end of February 2029, a little over a month before its closest passage to Earth. In this way, its instruments will be able to measure the properties of the asteroid before the encounter; observe the changes that could occur during it; and then make it possible to make the link with the data collected one month later by OSIRIS-APEX. “Enough to create synergy with the Americans, as we did with DART and Hera. But, this time, it is the European Space Agency which will arrive first,” underlines the scientist.

The ESA will then be capable to broadcast photographs of the asteroid taken by the probe reside to the general public, as we as soon as noticed NASA astronauts set foot on the Moon. “With, in addition, the possibility of simultaneously seeing the asteroid moving in the sky. And that is an event that will remain in the collective memory,” underlines Patrick Michel, who sees it as an outstanding alternative to encourage younger folks. In addition, the mission will fulfill a precedence goal set by NASA to make sure planetary protection: with the ability to mount a fast reconnaissance mission if an asteroid threatens the Earth tomorrow. The reality stays that the ESA nonetheless must resolve to hold it out… A response is predicted round July 9.