In 2029, an asteroid measuring about 1,100 feet wide will pass through space within 20,000 miles (32,200 km) of Earth, astronomers have predicted. This is the closest any space object of that size will have come to Earth in modern history.
According to a Reuters report, this close encounter will be captured by a spacecraft launched by Nasa in 2016 which will be in a position to provide a detailed examination. Led by the University of Arizona scientists, this mission aims to provide information about planetary formation and knowledge that could help build a defence system against potential doomsday asteroid collisions with Earth, the report explained.
When it was discovered in 2004, the asteroid Apophis, which is named after a demon serpent embodying evil and chaos in ancient Egyptian mythology, seemed to be heading towards a collision with Earth but more detailed observations have since ruled out any direct threat, at least for another century.
However, in 2029, the asteroid will come close to less than one-tenth the moon's distance from Earth and well within the orbits of some geosynchronous Earth satellites, the Reuters report explained.
The spacecraft that will record this encounter is OSIRIS-REx, launched in 2016, which was recently in the news for collecting a soil sample from a 4.5-billion-year-old asteroid Bennu three years ago and sending it back to Earth in a capsule that made a parachute landing in Utah in September. Last month, after examining the sample, Nasa administrator, Bill Nelson shared in a press release that this is the “biggest carbon-rich asteroid sample ever returned to Earth.”
Nasa has now rebranded the spacecraft as OSIRIS-APEX - short for APophis EXplorer - and set it off to its next target, the Apophis expedition. Apophis, oblong and kind of peanut-shaped, is a stony asteroid that is believed to consist mostly of silicate materials as well as iron and nickel, the Reuters report elaborated.
It is scheduled to pass Earth’s surface on 13 April, 2029, and will be visible to the naked eye for a few hours, Michael Nolan, deputy principal investigator for the mission at the University of Arizona said in the report. "It's not going to be this glorious show," Nolan added. However, it will appear as a point of reflected sunlight in the night sky over Africa and Europe.
An asteroid that large passing so near to Earth is estimated to occur roughly once every 7,500 years. The Apophis encounter is the first such flyby that is predicted in advance.