Exciting NASA Mission: Probe to Observe Near-Earth Asteroid’s Close Encounter in 2029

NASA’s OSIRIS-APEX spacecraft is preparing for a historic rendezvous with Apophis, an asteroid due to come remarkably close to Earth in about 5-1/2 years. Estimated to be as wide as the Empire State Building is tall, Apophis is expected to pass within 20,000 miles of Earth, marking the closest approach by an object of its size in modern history.

The spacecraft, originally known as OSIRIS-REx, made headlines when it collected a soil sample from a different asteroid and returned it to Earth in 2020. Now, rebranded as OSIRIS-APEX, it is set to observe Apophis’ close encounter with our planet.

Originally thought to pose a possible impact threat in 2029, further observations have ruled out any collision risk until at least another century. However, Apophis will come within a cosmic whisker’s distance from Earth, passing within one-tenth of the moon’s distance, and well within the orbits of some geosynchronous Earth satellites.

The mission’s goal is to offer a detailed examination of this rare close encounter, yielding insights into planetary formation and providing important knowledge that could inform potential defense systems against possible asteroid collisions with Earth.

During its close approach, Apophis will be visible to the naked eye for a few hours, appearing as a point of reflected sunlight in the night sky over Africa and Europe. The tidal pull of Earth’s gravity is expected to cause disturbances to the asteroid’s surface and motion, potentially leading to changes in its orbital path and rotational spin, and even triggering landslides and creating a comet-like tail.

NASA’s decision to repurpose the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft for this mission underscores the importance of studying celestial objects like Apophis. By observing and analyzing the asteroid’s behavior during its flyby in 2029, scientists hope to better understand its properties and potentially devise strategies for deflecting asteroids that pose a threat to our planet.

While not posing an immediate existential threat, an impact from an asteroid the size of Apophis could cause regional devastation, making it crucial for scientists to gain a deeper understanding of their composition, density, and behavior to develop effective defense strategies.

In conclusion, the encounter with Apophis not only provides a unique opportunity for scientific exploration but also serves as a reminder of the potential dangers posed by celestial objects and the importance of developing adequate defense mechanisms.

By Steve Gorman, Reuters


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