NASA’s spacecraft OSIRIS-APEX is embarking on a groundbreaking 5-year mission to rendezvous with the near-Earth asteroid Apophis in 2029. This marks the first time that a close encounter with an asteroid of this size has been predicted in advance.
Apophis, roughly the size of the Empire State Building, is set to come within 20,000 miles of Earth, making it the closest any celestial object of its size has come to our planet in modern history. While there is no impact risk in 2029, the asteroid’s proximity to Earth is significant. It will come within one-tenth the distance of the moon and even pass within the orbits of geosynchronous Earth satellites.
Led by scientists from the University of Arizona, the mission aims to provide in-depth examination of Apophis to gain insights into planetary formation. Additionally, it will inform efforts to build a defense system against potential asteroid collisions, which would be crucial in protecting our planet.
The spacecraft in charge of this important mission is OSIRIS-REx, which was previously utilized to collect a soil sample from a different asteroid and successfully return it to Earth. By studying Apophis up close, scientists hope to gather valuable information about the structure and properties of asteroids. This knowledge could greatly aid in the development of effective asteroid-deflection strategies to mitigate impact threats.
One of the most intriguing aspects of this mission is the potential impact of Earth’s gravity on Apophis. The tidal pull is expected to cause disturbances to the asteroid’s surface and motion, possibly altering its orbit and rotational spin. OSIRIS-APEX will closely observe the asteroid during its Earth flyby, capturing images and data to detect and quantify any changes caused by the close approach.
While Apophis itself does not pose an existential threat to life on Earth, an impact could still have devastating consequences for a major city or region. This highlights the importance of understanding and monitoring near-Earth asteroids to protect against potential impacts. The OSIRIS-APEX mission serves as a significant reminder of the need to stay vigilant and continue our efforts in this crucial area of research.
In the coming years, scientists and space enthusiasts alike will eagerly await the findings and discoveries made by OSIRIS-APEX. This mission has the potential to greatly contribute to our understanding of the universe, as well as aid in the development of measures to safeguard our planet from potential asteroid collisions.
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