Armageddon – Maybe…….

The asteroid Apophis, were it to hit the Earth in 2036, would explode with the force of more than half the weapons in the United States nuclear arsenal. That would be bad. True to form, though, the old Cold War enemies are in disagreement about the dangers.

Here at the Daily Maverick we seem to have developed a fascination with the End of the World. Perhaps we doth protest too much, but we’d just like to point out that it’s not because we’re naturally apocalyptic. Our apparent propensity to run doomsday stories, if you’ll indulge us, is simply because our editor knows a good news lead when he sees one. His instincts have been proven correct by the retweets and comments we get on such articles, by the fact that the writer of this piece was personally warned to start repenting by a sect that’s pegged judgment day as May 21st, 2011, and by the fact that you’re still with us at the tail-end of this 130-word opening paragraph.

From all the doomsday predictions we’ve covered thus far, though – including the abovementioned 2011/05/21 sect, the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar, which argues for 2012/12/21, and the History Channel, which argues for just about any date that hasn’t yet passed into history (which makes you wonder about the channel’s name) – the one that seems the most statistically probable to us is 2036/04/13.

That’s when the asteroid Apophis, a 300-metre-diameter chunk of rock, terribly inconveniently named after the Egyptian god of “uncreation”, has a one-in-four-million chance of hitting Earth.

Wait! Don’t click out yet! The reason we’re running this story is that Apophis initially had a 2.7 percent chance of hitting Earth, on April 13th 2029. Using updated information, though, NASA scientists recently recalculated the path of the large asteroid, and decided that the refined data indicated a much-reduced likelihood of a hazardous encounter with our planet on the same date in 2036.

Numerologists, cult members and History Channel staffers will have noticed by now that the gap between these two dates is seven years, a very significant number (days of the week, oceans on Earth, continents on Earth, days it took God to create the world including Her rest-day, etc). We encourage you to reach your own conclusions on that score, really we do. As logical-positivist newsmen, what’s important to us is that on April 13th 2029 we’re still going to see a record-setting close encounter with a lethal asteroid – Apophis, say the updated NASA stats, is then going to approach within 18,300 miles of our planet – and that on April 13th 2036 many of us might perish in a cataclysmic collision – the chances, remote as they may be, are nevertheless slightly greater than you being struck by lightning, and much greater than a monkey at a keyboard typing out the complete works of Nostradamus. Or was it Shakespeare?

The Russians, who by default don’t believe in NASA’s stats, aren’t about to take any undue risks. * The Russian Federal Space Agency is considering the funding of a project to deflect the 880-megaton asteroid, and aside from one small problem, there’s every reason to take them seriously. Anatoly Perminov, the agency’s head, held a news conference in late December 2009 in which he stated that the asteroid “will surely collide with the Earth in the 2030s,” and that he’d heard this information from a scientist.

“We should pay several hundred million dollars and build a system that would … prevent a collision, rather than sit and wait for it to happen and kill hundreds of thousands of people.”

The one small problem? Perminov refused to name his lone scientist. Ah, well.


Apophis Course on Video

Any number of undiscovered near-Earth objects could one day careen into the Earth, and there is a lot of talk here at the American Geophysical Union meeting about tracking them. So far, though, only one discovered object has seemed even mildly likely to hit our planet.

That asteroid is Apophis, a 900-foot asteroid. Calculations released on Christmas Eve 2004 appeared to show that there was a greater than 2 percent chance the asteroid would hit the Earth in 2029. The asteroid appeared ready to give the Earth its closest shave since astronomers began looking for such things. It was judged a 4 on the Torino Impact Hazard Scale for a short time, the highest rating any near-Earth object has received.

As it turned out, more precise observations brought the risk of collision down to just 1 in 250,000, but the scare sparked greater interest and study in the fields of asteroid detection and defense.

Even though the asteroid doesn’t look like it’s going to hit Earth, on April 13, 2029, it will come closer to Earth than any other near-Earth object that we know of. It will pass just 18,300 miles above the planet’s surface.

Here, we see an exclusive animation created by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of what that approach will look like from the perspective of the asteroid. And whoo boy, does it seem close.


Russia wants to destroy Apophis before 2035

Russia’s space chief said Wednesday his agency will consider sending a spacecraft to a large asteroid to knock it off its path and prevent a possible collision with Earth.

Anatoly Perminov said the space agency will hold a meeting soon to assess a mission to Apophis, telling Golos Rossii radio that it would invite NASA, the European Space Agency, the Chinese space agency and others to join the project once it is finalized.

When the 270-meter (885-foot) asteroid was first discovered in 2004, astronomers estimated the chances of it smashing into Earth in its first flyby in 2029 were as high as 1-in-37.

Further studies ruled out the possibility of an impact in 2029, when the asteroid is expected to come no closer than 18,300 miles (29,450 kilometers) above Earth’s surface, but they indicated a small possibility of a hit on subsequent encounters.

In October, NASA lowered the odds that Apophis could hit Earth in 2036 from a 1-in-45,000 as earlier thought to a 1-in-250,000 chance after researchers recalculated the asteroid’s path. It said another close encounter in 2068 will involve a 1-in-330,000 chance of impact.

Scientists have long theorized about asteroid deflection strategies. Some have proposed sending a probe to circle around a dangerous asteroid to gradually change its trajectory. Others suggested sending a spacecraft to collide with the asteroid and alter its momentum, or using nuclear weapons to hit it.

Without mentioning NASA findings, Perminov said that he heard from a scientist that Apophis is getting closer and may hit the planet. “I don’t remember exactly, but it seems to me it could hit the Earth by 2032,” Perminov said.

He wouldn’t disclose any details of the project, saying they still need to be worked out. But he said the mission wouldn’t require any nuclear explosions.

Hollywood action films “Deep Impact” and “Armageddon,” have featured space missions scrambling to avoid catastrophic collisions. In both movies space crews use nuclear bombs in an attempt to prevent collisions.

“Calculations show that it’s possible to create a special purpose spacecraft within the time we have, which would help avoid the collision without destroying it (the asteroid) and without detonating any nuclear charges,” Perminov said. “The threat of collision can be averted.”

“People’s lives are at stake. We should pay several hundred million dollars and build a system that would allow to prevent a collision, rather than sit and wait for it to happen and kill hundreds of thousands of people,” he added.

Boris Shustov, the director of the Institute of Astronomy under the Russian Academy of Sciences, hailed Perminov’s statement as a signal that officials had come to recognize the danger posed by asteroids.

“Apophis is just a symbolic example, there are many other dangerous objects we know little about,” he said, according to RIA Novosti news agency.

“We will soon hold a closed meeting of our collegium, the science-technical council to look at what can be done” to prevent the asteroid Apophis from slamming into the planet in 2036, Anatoly Perminov told Voice of Russia radio.

“We are talking about people’s lives,” Perminov was quoted by news agencies as telling the radio station.

“Better to spend a few hundred million dollars to create a system for preventing a collision than to wait until it happens and hundreds of thousands of people are killed,” he said.

The Apophis asteroid measures approximately 350m in diameter and RIA Novosti news agency said that if it were to hit Earth when it passes nearby in 2036 it would create a new desert the size of France.

Perminov said a serious plan to prevent such a catastrophe would probably be an international project involving Russian, European, US and Chinese space experts.

Interfax quoted him as saying that one option would be to build a new “space apparatus” designed solely for the purpose of diverting Apophis from a collision course with Earth safely.

“There won’t be any nuclear explosions,” Perminov said. “Everything will be done according to the laws of physics. We will examine all of this.”

In a statement dated from October and posted on its website, the US space agency NASA said new calculations on the path of Apophis indicated “a significantly reduced likelihood of a hazardous encounter with Earth in 2036.”

“Updated computational techniques and newly available data indicate the probability of an Earth encounter on April 13, 2036, for Apophis has dropped from one-in-45,000 to about four-in-a-million,” NASA said.

RIA Novosti said the asteroid was expected to pass within 30,000 kilometres (18,600 miles) of Earth in 2029 — closer than some geo-stationary satellites — and could shift course to hit Earth seven years years after that.


Asteroid 99942 aka Apophis

Asteroid 99942 aka Apophis [1] is on an orbit about the sun that takes it close to the earth twice in 7 years. It will pass the earth at a distance of about 37000 km on 13. April 2029 (closer than some earth satellites). Depending on the exact trajectory during this passage, earth’s gravitational pull may set it up for an impact in 2036. Apophis is about 300 m in diameter, so an impact at about 12.6 km/s would be a major disaster rivaling the Krakatoa explosion of 1883. Apophis will hit the earth in 2036 only if it passes through a roughly 600-meter [2] wide region in space close to the earth on 2029/4/13. A deflection manouver to make it miss the keyhole would be much easier than one to make it miss the entire earth. Up to about 2026, a velocity change of 1 micron per second [2] is sufficient to deflect Apophis from a trajectory that would go through the center of the keyhole to one that makes it miss. After passage through the keyhole (which is not at all certain, yet), a deflection will need to change the velocity by up to about 1 cm/s.

The planetary society has initiated a competition for ideas to track the orbit of Apophis accurately enough to know whether or not Apophis will pass through the keyhole in 2029. This information should be available by 2017, so that a deflection mission can be planned and executed by 2026. This would leave 3 years for a velocity change to result in an accumulation of positional deviation, and missing the keyhole. Most likely the tracking mission will involve placement of a radio beacon or optical reflector.
I have developed a proposal for such a tracking mission, and will make details available on this web site after the competition is concluded. The proposal focuses mostly on the radio science and technology for the beacon, but part of the effort was also to calculate an optimal transfer trajectory for the spacecraft carrying the beacon to fly from Earth to Apophis. For this, I wrote a little program to scan all transfer trajectories with given departure and arrival times and locations (Earth for departure and Apophis for arrival). For lack of time, and given the emphasis on the radio-science aspect, the program was a kludge, and could do only planar geometries (i.e., ignoring the orbital inclinations). It is listed here, together with a brief documentation.
Meanwhile, I have re-written the program with several improvements, The new version can do three-dimensional calculations, and is written with future upgrades in mind, such as optimization with one or more mid-course rocket burns. I will make this program available under the Gnu Public License (GPL), meaning anyone is free to use and modify it under the condition that the modified version (or the original) is also made available under the GPL. An early version of the program is listed here. It is written in perl (as was the old program), but at some point I will convert it to C++.

[1] NASA, Near Earth Object Program
[2] R. Schweickart, C. Chapman, D. Durda, P. Hut, B. Bottke, D. Nesvorny, Threat Characterization: Trajectory Dynamics, wpdynamics.pdf

What to look forward to in 2036

The time – April 13, 2036…. The place – Earth. Apophis is out there and it might just be on a collision course with our planet!

The time – April 13, 2036…. The place – Earth. Apophis is out there and it might just be on a collision course with our planet! The asteroid will come very close to the Earth in 2029, but miss. That close encounter will trigger a collision in 2036. According to this video there´s noo need to make any plans past 2036!

Russian Scientists to deflect Apophis

Russian scientists have said that they intend to interfere with the trajectory of Apophis asteroid which could hit Earth in 2036.

Anatoly Perminov, head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos said that “it will hold a meeting to discuss the issue.”

And he suggested that “The calculations show that a spacecraft could deflect the object of his course. This is not to destroy Apophis, but out of its path. ”

Perminov said that “Any plan for such work would be done by an international collaboration between Russia, the European Union, United States, China and Japan.”

But he added that “there is no room for panic, a crash would put at stake the lives of many people and it is better to pay several hundred million dollars and create a system to avoid a collision, than to wait passively “.

The asteroid Apophis has a diameter of 270 feet, is three times larger than the Tunguska meteorite, which in 1908 destroyed 2 000 hectares in Siberia.

The asteroid that is directed toward the Sun, will pass close by Earth at a distance of 30 thousand kilometers, and when it returns in 2036 could possibly hit our planet.

In the U.S. NASA said that “its scientists had significantly reduced the chance that Apophis would impact with the earth’s surface” and that “the odds of an impact in 2036 are 1 in 45 thousand.”

About Apophis 99942

If you ask anyone if they know what Apophis 99942 is then the answer will likely be a blank one. Ask the same question again in 2029 and then in 2036 then people will most definitely be more aware. Apophis 99942 is a near-Earth asteroid and for a brief while was considered the most likely object to collide with Earth. In 2029 it will make a record-breaking near miss of our planet and in 2036 it will return with a 1 in 45,000 chance of hitting Earth.

Apophis is estimated to be 415m long and incredibly heavy, in 2029 it will pass within the range of geosynchronous satellites. Objects of this size are only thought to pass this close every 1,300 years. It will be visible to the naked eye as it makes its approach and will appear as a starlike object moving across the night sky. When the asteroid was first discovered initial estimates put the impact probability at 1 in 37, moving it up to four out of ten on the Torino scale, the highest anything has ever been.

However with more work on computing the orbit of Apophis astronomers were able to rule out an impact in 2029 and state that an impact in 2036 looked unlikely. The asteroid was discovered and named by Roy Tucker and David Tholen. Apophis was the Greek name for the Egyptian god Apep the Uncreator. Apep lived in the underworld and tries to swallow Ra as he passes. Despite a seemingly appropriate name it is rumoured that Tholen and Tucker named the asteroid after the character of the same name from their favourite TV show, Stargate SG-1, a being who sought to destroy the Earth.

Although in 2010 the likelihood of Apophis hitting the Earth has been proven to be very small it did for a while start to make scientists wonder what the effects would be should the asteroid actually strike our planet. An object of the size of Apophis would generate an explosion with the equivalent energy of 880 megatons of TNT. By comparison the eruption of Krakatoa was 200 megatons and the Tunguska event released 3-10 megatons of TNT equivalent energy. The impact would be severe and affect a huge area, but thought to be light enough that the Earth would avoid some of the more serious events, such as an impact winter.

Although Apophis is considered a low risk, its initial status of 4/10 on the Torino scale prompted talk of how we would deal with any future Earthbound asteroids. Many possible ideas have been looked at including deflection and nuking. Deflecting asteroids is seen as favourable to blowing them up as all that may do is create a stream of smaller asteroids that still hit the Earth. To deflect an orbit of an asteroid a small craft would drill into the surface of the rock and then eject material to slowly move the asteroid off-course.

For the moment we’re safe from asteroid impact, but NASA cannot possibly track every single body out there. Thankfully our atmosphere takes care of much of the smaller bodies and provides fantastic protection from asteroid impact. However, there is one body over 1km in diameter with a probability of hitting Earth. Asteroid 29075 1950 DA is rated 2/10 on the Torino scale and will make its pass in the year 2880.

Fortunately for us its still a long way off and gives us ample time to work out an effective defense mechanism. An object the size of 1950 DA would have serious consequences for human civilisation and be very harmful for the climate and biosphere. Luckily for us we have nearly 900 years to work on a solution.

Goodbye World??

Apophis AsteroidIs the end really nigh?  The asteroid know as Apophis is expected to pass very close to earth on 13th April 2029, and depending on how close that pass is it could hit us on it´s next pass on 13th April 2036.

Provisionally known as 2004 MN4, it was thought that it would hit Earth on it´s first pass, but further calculations show that it´s path will take it past us, but it will be a near-miss.

Also alarming was the news that if Apophis flies through a certain band of space, 610 meters wide, it will throw the orbit out by enough of a margin that it could hit us in 2036!  But this is a very slim chance and I´m sure that by then they will have found a way to send Bruce Willis into Space……