Discovered in 2004, the 370-meter-long space rock ranks fourth on NASA’s Sentry list of biggest asteroid threats to life on Earth. While the odds of the Apophis striking the Earth in 2068 are somewhere in the region of one in 150,000, the asteroid is also due to pay our planet a visit in April 2029, and now the scientific community suspects this particular flyby may be far closer than previously calculated.
The extreme close up will be courtesy of Yarkovsky acceleration, a phenomenon in which an asteroid gains propulsion asymmetrically, as chemicals on its Sun-facing side expand and erupt, slightly altering its orbit through minor explosions and bursts of gas.
According to a presentation at the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences virtual conference given by astronomer David Tholen from the University of Hawaii, Apophis’ April 2029 close approach, may come within the orbits of some of our communication satellites.
“Knowledge is the first line of planetary defense, and the 2029 Apophis encounter is a once-per-thousand-year opportunity,” the Lunar and Planetary Institute states, adding that discussions have already begun regarding potential “possible in-situ missions” on board the “poster child of potentially hazardous asteroids.”