January 9, 2013
Slooh Space Camera To Follow Near Earth Approach Of Asteroid Apophis
April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Asteroid 99942, named Apophis after an ancient Egyptian mythological demon, will be whizzing by Earth this week. Apophis is a near-Earth asteroid with an estimated diameter of approximately three football fields — over 880 feet. The Slooh Space Camera will cover it's near approach on Wednesday, January 9th, 2013.
Astronomers at the Kitt Peak National Observatory discovered Apophis in 2004. At the time, they gave the asteroid a 1 in 45 chance of impacting with the Earth in 2029. Prediction models have since eliminated those concerns, however, there is still a chance that Apophis could hit the Earth sometime in the distant future. This could happen as early as 2036.
This year, Apophis will cut very close to the Earth, flying by at only 30,000 km. The moon orbits Earth at 385,000 km, as a comparison, and satellites are commonly around 36,000km.
Apophis will be at her maximum brightness on the 9th, at a magnitude of 19.7. This is not bright enough to view through a backyard telescope, but it will be reasonably bright through Slooh telescopes situated in the Canary Islands.
Patrick Paolucci explains, "Alone among all these near-Earth asteroids that have passed our way in recent years, Apophis has generated the most concern worldwide because of its extremely close approach in 2029 and potential impact, albeit small, in 2036. We are excited to cover this asteroid live for the general public."
If you are interested in knowing when Apophis will be visible in your area, check out this event clock.
Of course, Apophis isn't the only asteroid headed for a close encounter with our planet. The next serious event — asteroid DA 14, will pass closer than the Moon on Feb 15th. Asteroids zip by our home planet on a weekly, and sometimes daily schedule. If they come close enough, they will show up on NASA's Near Earth Object List.
Physicist and former astronaut Edward T. Lu seems an unlikely asteroid hunter. He warns us that although Apophis might be giving us a near miss, discounting the danger of an asteroid strike is deadly. For proof, look at what happened in Siberia in 1908.
Somewhere in the atmosphere over the Tunguska River, a 330-foot meteor exploded with an impact 1,000 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. This impact destroyed an area equivalent to the size of San Francisco.
B612 Foundation is a non-profit group dedicated to hunting down asteroids that wants to launch the first privately funded deep space mission: Sentinel, a space telescope to orbit the sun and map the inner Solar System in search of asteroids that smash into Earth.
Lu, who heads up B612, says the goal is to see what's out there, before it hits us. The problem, according to him, isn't the asteroids we know about, but rather the ones we don´t.
"For everyone we know about, there are about 100 more we don't know about," he told ABC News. "We have to find the other 99."
Sentinel, in order to find these "off the grid" asteroids, will perform a long-term search with a unique infrared telescope. This telescope will constantly scan space for the threat of asteroids.
"Once we find an asteroid," Lu told ABC reporter Gina Sunseri, "it is possible for us to predict its trajectory. We know the government wants to discover asteroids big enough to wipe out the planet but we also want to find those that could wipe out a city the size of New York, or Hong Kong, or Houston."
Lu and another former astronaut, Stan Love, have come up with the concept of Space Tug, which is a rocket designed to launch to the same orbit as a an asteroid threatening to hit Earth and using its orbital motion, nudge the asteroid back to a safer path.
"You don't have to change much, one hundred thousandth of a mile an hour is enough, 10 years ahead of time, to cause an asteroid to miss the rendezvous with Earth," Lu said.