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Very few people had heard of near Earth asteroids (NEAs) until 2004. Science went through a brief period where it thought that the Earth was going to be struck. Mock-ups were done to determine the number of people who would be killed and what could be done to avert the tragedy, but nothing was needed. NASA found old records that helped them to prove that the Earth was safe from Apophis once again. It almost sounds like an episode of Stargate SG-1 doesn’t it?
With a size of 270 meters and a mass of 2.1 x 1010 kg, asteroid Apophis could have lived up to its Egyptian name for Uncreator. It is thought that a strike by an object that size could destroy 10% to 25% of the life on Earth. The team of Tholen and Tucker who discovered the asteroid Apophis on June 19, 2004 are also fans of the science fiction television show SG-1. From that show you will recognize the name of the main antagonist for the first several seasons. A true case of art imitating life.
After the Minor Planet Center confirmed the June discovery of the asteroid 2029 Apophis, an April 13, 2029 close approach was flagged by NASA. This will make for some spectacular viewing with the unaided eye in rural areas. The asteroid will be visible with binoculars from the brightest suburban areas. The asteroid will pass again in 2036. The 2029 pass will actually be closer than the first predictions, but an impact has been ruled out. Also, the pass on April 13, 2036 carries little risk of an impact.
A brief sense of science fiction come true is the biggest claim to fame that the asteroid Apophis has to its name at this time. Should it hit a gravitational keyhole and change it course enough, we may find ourselves needing a space missile defense system. This asteroid was a test for NASA’s Sentry system and the system passed admirably.
Some scientists think that Apophis makes an idea asteroid to visit by spacecraft, to better study the movements of a potentially devastating near Earth asteroid. By placing a beacon direction on the asteroid, astronomers would be able to pinpoint its movements precisely and rule out a risk completely – or give governments time to prepare for an impact…