Dangerous Apophis Will Reach Our Planet In 2036
A brief look into the future. The year is 2029 and a very dangerous asteroid named Apophis is making its closest approach to Earth. Humans are awaiting this moment with great anxiety.
Anxious because they will finally learn whether the space killer will strike Earth when it returns in the year 2036. Just how dangerous is Apophis really?
A huge, potentially hazardous, aircraft carrier-sized asteroid named Apophis, is rushing toward Earth at speeds of more than 30 thousand km per hour. This NEA (Near-Earth Asteroids) has a size of 320 m and mass of about 4.6 × 1010 kg. It constitutes a possible danger from the sky that may hit our planet as preliminary planned. Such events did actually happen before and will certainly take place in the future.
We hope that Apophis’ passing close to the Earth will be ONLY a great astronomical event for all observers in Europe, Africa and western Asia and no harm will be done. The computation of Earth impact probabilities for near-Earth objects is a complex process requiring sophisticated mathematical methods and it’s not any easy work.
For now a possible impact risk from Apophis (MN4) still does exist. The asteroid will be making the nearest-in-time close approach with Earth on April 13, 2029, when the minimum distance of the asteroid from the Earth’s center will be as small as 38 000 km (23,612 miles). It was previously predicted that Apophis will pass about 36350 km above the Earth on April 13, 2029.
Recent observations using Doppler radar at the giant Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico confirmed that Apophis will swing by at about 32000 km above the Earth in 2029, but with a chance of resonant return in 2036.
Timelapse of Asteroid 2004 FH’s flyby (NASA/JPL Public Domain) 2004 FH is the centre dot being followed by the sequence; the object that flashes by near the end is an artificial satellite. Images obtained by Stefano Sposetti, Switzerland on March 18, 2004. Animation made Raoul Behrend, Geneva Observatory, Switzerland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
So, there’s no danger of being hit in 2029, but the force of Earth’s gravity will have a great influence on Apophis and its orbit. “When it does pass close to us on April 13, 2029, the Earth will deflect it and change its orbit. There’s a small possibility that if it passes through a particular point in space, the so-called keyhole, … the Earth’s gravity will change things so that when it comes back around again in 2036, it will collide with us,” according to Alan Fitzsimmons, an astronomer from Queen’s University Belfast.
The chance of Apophis passing through the keyhole, a 600-metre patch of space, is 1 in 5,500 based on current information. “Such a close approach will result in substantial transformation of the asteroid’s orbit. The value of the perturbations depends on the minimum distance between the bodies during the approach…” Russian scientists explain in their “How precise is the orbit of asteroid (99942) Apophis and how probable is its collision with the Earth in 2036-2037?”
Scientists seriously consider this transformation because it may result in new dangerous approaches and even in probable Apophis collisions with the Earth starting from 2036.
If that happened, there would be a massive destruction, and the victims could be counted in millions. It will create a ball of iron and iridium 320 metres (1049 feet) wide and weighing 200 billion tonnes, which will crash into the Atlantic Ocean, according to predictions. The shockwaves from that would create huge tsunami waves, destroying both coastlines and inland areas, whilst creating a thick cloud of dust that would darken the skies indefinitely.
In 2012, Apophis will become observable for approximately nine months. More accurate forecasting will be achieved due to additional optical and radar observations in 2013, when Apophis will pass close enough to Earth for ultraprecise radar signals to be bounced off its surface.
Our next possibility to observe this asteroid will be in 2020-2021. Scientists from many countries joined their efforts in closely watching the flight path of this asteroid and they will know much more and more exactly in 2029 when the asteroid will come to a specific trajectory . This trajectory is unfortunately possible and if it happens – the impact will become inevitable.
According to Dr. Donald Yeomans of NASA’s Near Earth Object Program, Apophis is not likely to hit Earth in 2036. However, “if the object passes through a 600-meter-sized keyhole in 2029 – that is, a location in space that is only 600 meters wide – it will indeed hit the Earth in 2036. But the chances of its actually passing through this 600-meter-sized keyhole in space in 2029 are extremely low.” he said.
Astronomers of Nicolaus Copernicus Astronomical Center, Poland say that “the present observations are not adequate to eliminate definitely the possibility of impact with the Earth in 2036 and in many years following this year even in fully ballistic model…” There are many asteroid collision avoidance strategies ideas, but at least one of them must be reasonable and possible to realize in … good time, if necessary.
Russian scientists made their own calculations and propose an unmanned machine, designed solely for the purpose of diverting Apophis from a collision course with Earth safely. At the same time, Professor Leonid Sokolov of the Saint Petersburg State University in Russia believes that the chance of a collision in 2036 is extremely slim saying that the asteroid would likely disintegrate into smaller parts and smaller collisions with Earth could occur in the following years.
However, he adds that “our task is to consider various alternatives and develop scenarios and plans of action depending on the results of further observations of Apophis.”
And so, one of many alternatives is a 10 kg solar sail with a lead-time of one year can move Apophis out of a 600-m keyhole area in 2029 to eliminate the possibility of its resonant return in 2036, according to Chinese scientist Shengping Gong of Tsinghua University, Beijing.
Along with his colleagues, he propose this alternative solution to the Apophis problem in their paper. In 2029, we’ll know much more about the danger from Apophis. If necessary, Apophis can be deflected, but a deflection mission must be determined soon enough. We’ll have seven years to alter its course enough to miss our planet in 2036 preventing the tragedy.
Is it enough time to do so? Is it enough time to test any asteroid-deflection plan in order to put it almost immediately into practice? Many say that if the object gets close enough, it would be a good research opportunity. Of course… we hope so! Because if it comes too close we’ll not have time to research anything!
Bruce Willis Couldn’t Save Us From Asteroid Doom
According to the internet hysteria surrounding the ancient Mayan calendar, an asteroid could be on its way to wipe out the world on December 21, 2012. Obviously this is pretty unlikely — but if an asteroid really is on its way, could we take a cue from the disaster movie ‘Armageddon’ in order to save the planet?
According to science research carried out by University of Leicester physics students, the answer is definitely “no”. In the 1998 film, Bruce Willis plays an oil-drilling platform engineer who lands on the surface of an Earth-bound asteroid, drills to the center and detonates a nuclear weapon, splitting the asteroid in half.
The two pieces of the asteroid then pass either side of the Earth, saving the planet’s population from annihilation. But the group of four MPhys students worked out that this method would not work, as we simply do not have a bomb powerful enough.
Students Ben Hall, Gregory Brown, Ashley Back and Stuart Turner found that the device would need to be about a billion times stronger than the biggest bomb ever detonated on Earth — the Soviet Union’s 50 megaton hydrogen bomb “Big Ivan” — in order to save the world from a similar sized asteroid.
To do this, they devised a formula to find the total amount of kinetic energy needed in relation to the volume of the asteroid pieces, their density, the clearance radius (which was taken as the radius of Earth plus 400 miles), the asteroid’s pre-detonation velocity, and its distance from Earth at the point of detonation.
Using the measurements and properties of the asteroid as stated in the film, the formula revealed that 800 trillion terajoules of energy would be required to split the asteroid in two with both pieces clearing the planet. However, the total energy output of “Big Ivan” only comes to 418,000 terajoules.
In other words, we would need to construct a bomb about a billion times stronger than the most powerful weapon ever built in order to save the world in this way. They also found that scientists would have to detect the asteroid much earlier if we were to have any chance of splitting the asteroid in time.
On top of this, the asteroid would need to be split at almost the exact point that it could feasibly be detected at 8 billion miles. This would leave no time for Bruce to travel to the asteroid and drill into its center — let alone share any meaningful moments with Ben Affleck or Liv Tyler along the way.
Student Ben Hall, 22, from Haverhill, near Cambridge, said: “One possible alternative method would be moving the asteroid via propulsion methods attached to it. What is certain is that most methods would require very early detection of such an asteroid and very careful planning in deriving a solution.
“I really enjoyed the film ‘Armageddon’ and up until recently never really considered the plausibility in the science behind the movie. But after watching it back I found myself being more skeptical about the film in many areas.
“I think that directors attempt to make films scientifically accurate but find that a lot of trouble is run into in what can and cannot be done, thus leading to falsification in the science to make movies more interesting or visually appealing to the audience.” The science papers, entitled “Could Bruce Willis Save the World?” and “Could Bruce Willis Predict the End of the World?” were published in this year’s University of Leicester Journal of Special Physics Topics.
The journal is published every year, and features original short papers written by students in the final year of their four-year Master of Physics degree. Ben, who graduated with a First last month and is due to start working at Coalville-based optical technology company Zeeko in August, added: “The module was great fun to be involved with as it allowed for us to get our creative juices flowing and attack original problems from different angles.
The whole publishing and reviewing process also gave us a very good taster of what it is like to publish papers in the ‘real world’ as well as being a good simulation of the problems that arise when doing so.” The other three group members also graduated with Firsts, and are set to start PhDs. Course leader Dr. Mervyn Roy, a lecturer at the University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, said: “A lot of the papers published in the Journal are on subjects that are amusing, topical, or a bit off-the-wall. Our fourth years are nothing if not creative!
But, to be a research physicist — in industry or academia — you need to show some imagination, to think outside the box, and this is certainly something that the module allows our students to practice. “Most of our masters students hope to go on to careers in research where a lot of their time will be taken up with scientific publishing — writing and submitting papers, and writing and responding to referee reports.
“This is another area where the module really helps. Because Physics Special Topics is run exactly like a professional journal, the students get the chance to develop all the skills they will need when dealing with high profile journals like Nature or Science later on in life.”
- Giant asteroid zips past Earth in ‘scary’ shave – CBC.ca (cbc.ca)
- City Sized Asteroid To Pass Earth This Week (davidreneke.com)