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How Science is Preparing for Asteroid Apophis' Close Encounter with Earth

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By parm maan

Apophis' approach to Earth could herald a new era of planetary protection (Photo: National Geographic)

We are fair five years an astronomical event that can be recorded in the collective memory of mankind. This is a close pass of an asteroid to Earth Apophis and, although we already know that it will not be dangerous, we can say that it is cooling if we think about it.

For decades, the astronomical community's gaze has been focused on Earth's encounter with asteroid 99942 Apophis, a nearby rocky body. 340 m in diameter. Although the risk of direct impact is excluded, the meeting still arouses great interest. The reason is that this asteroid will come close April 13, 2029just a few 32,000 km on the surface of our planet.

Although it is not currently on NASA's Sentry program's list of potentially hazardous asteroids, Apophis' approach would be; less than a tenth of the distance that separates us from the Moon. And for the most believers, it will happen on Friday the 13th.

The brightness of the star will be impressive. It will be seen moving around the diameter of the Moon in one minute on April 13, 2029. (Peter Horalek / Opava Institute of Physics / APOD NASA)

The closest approach to Earth will be an asteroid perfectly visible to the naked eye. The luminosity of the wandering star will reach +3 magnitude, which some stars in the Cassiopeia constellation or the famous Orion belt stars have. And, despite its “stellar” appearance, it will be impressive to see how it moves around the diameter of the Moon in a minute.

NASA's already famous Osiris-REx mission continues to operate after visiting and collecting samples from asteroid Bennu. Due to its capabilities, it was reconfigured to be closer to Apophis and renamed Apophis. Osiris-APEX.

The space mission aims to measure Earth's tidal forces on a potentially hazardous asteroid and will capture live, never-before-seen images of the asteroid's surface with our planet in the background. NASA will provide the photo at the same time we can head out to the park to see the asteroid overhead.

NASA's Osiris-REX mission continues after collecting samples from asteroid Bennu. It has been reconfigured to approach Apophis, renamed Osiris-APEX (Europa Press/ NASA)

Binoculars or binoculars will not be required. More than 2 billion people in Western Europe and North Africa are likely to participate in the upcoming once-in-a-lifetime encounter with Apophis.

At the time of writing, the European Space Agency (ESA) is also considering launching a mission RAMSES for visit Apophis before, during and after the asteroid's encounter with Earth. The mission, proposed in ESA's Space Security Program, would use the same platform designed for the Hera spacecraft and send several CubeSat-type satellites to perform proximity measurements.

To meet Apophis by April 2029, the RAMSES probe must be launched soon. Both possible configurations should launch it in April 2027 and fly by Earth in April 2028 set your destination in April or make a more expensive and complicated direct transfer that takes 11 months 2028.

The OSIRIS-APEX mission could provide hope for the international cooperation needed to respond to the challenges facing humanity (Photo: Pixabay)

If the ESA board gives the green light to the mission, the most effective technical solution will be determined in 2025 to reduce costs and allow for rapid implementation. First RAMSES could encounter Apophis two months before it approaches Earth and conduct an asteroid characterization campaign before and after the encounter.

There is great interest in investigating whether Apophis is also a Bennu-like debris pile, and whether the asteroid's physiognomy and structure may be affected by gravitational tidal forces.

With the experience of the DART and Hera missions, the use of small satellites, or CubeSats, to gather data about the neighborhood is gaining momentum. RAMSES was proposed to launch at least two CubeSats of six cube units each, which would be launched into the vicinity of Apophis before the close encounter. In the selected environment, they will operate independently, using RAMSES as a relay satellite.

Although it doesn't pose a threat today, studying Apophis will help investigate future close encounters between Earth and an asteroid (Photo: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

Instrumentation will include a thermal infrared camera, a laser altimeter, a low-frequency radar, dust detectors, seismometers, interferometers, microscopes, radiometers, laser retroreflectors, and more. This is a mission that has yet to be decided, but making it happen in time for the meeting will show that there are ways to get this type of mission off the ground quickly. After all, maybe the next asteroid won't warn us.

It's not a whim to better understand the nature and structure of Apophis. Although it can be said that in the next approaches it does not represent a risk, at least for a century, in the future it may become complicated.

Our planet's close encounter with asteroid Apophis is a once-in-a-millennium opportunity. A media event that could be very useful for science, to the protection and propagation of the planets. Moreover, the OSIRIS-APEX mission will give hope to the international cooperation that we need to respond to the challenges that threaten humanity.

* Josep M. Trigo Rodríguez is a Principal Investigator in the Meteorite, Small Body and Planetary Science Group at the Institute for Space Sciences (ICE – CSIC).

*This note is originally owned The conversation.

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