99942 Apophis

By Wikipedia Contributors

Third most hazardous near-Earth asteroid
99942 Apophis shape.png
99942 Apophis

99942 Apophis (/əˈpɒfɪs/) is a near-Earth asteroid with a diameter of 370 metres that caused a brief period of concern in December 2004 when initial observations indicated a probability up to 2.7% that it would hit Earth or the Moon on April 13, 2029. Additional observations provided improved predictions that eliminated the possibility of an impact on Earth or the Moon in 2029. However, until 2006, a possibility remained that during the 2029 close encounter with Earth, Apophis would pass through a gravitational keyhole, a small region no more than about 800 metres (12 mi) in diameter,[9][10] that would set up a future impact exactly seven years later on April 13, 2036. This possibility kept it at Level 1 on the Torino impact hazard scale until August 2006, when the probability that Apophis would pass through the keyhole was determined to be very small and Apophis's rating on the Torino scale was lowered to zero. By 2008, the keyhole had been determined to be less than 1 km wide.[9] During the short time when it had been of greatest concern, Apophis set the record for highest rating on the Torino scale, reaching level 4 on December 27, 2004.[11]

As of 2014, the diameter of Apophis is estimated to be approximately 370 metres (1,210 ft).[4] Preliminary observations by Goldstone radar in January 2013 effectively ruled out the possibility of an Earth impact by Apophis in 2036.[12] By May 6, 2013 (April 15, 2013 observation arc), the probability of an impact on April 13, 2036 had been eliminated.[4] The highest probability of impact is on April 12, 2068 and the odds of an impact on that date, as calculated by the JPL Sentry risk table using a January 2021 solution, are 1 in 380,000,[4][13] but the nominal trajectory has the asteroid more than 1 AU (150 million km) from Earth on that date.[14] As of March 2021[update], there were seven asteroids with a more notable cumulative Palermo Technical Impact Hazard Scale than Apophis, though none of them has a Torino level greater than 0.[15] On average, an asteroid the size of Apophis (370 metres) can be expected to impact Earth once in about 80,000 years.[16] Observations in 2020 by the Subaru telescope have confirmed David Vokrouhlický's 2015 Yarkovsky effect predictions.[17] Goldstone radar will observe Apophis March 3-14, 2021 helping to refine the orbit.[18]

Discovery and naming

Asteroid Apophis – closest approach to Earth on April 13, 2029[19]
(00:20; VideoFile; April 29, 2019) (blue dots = artificial satellites; pink = International Space Station)

Apophis was discovered on June 19, 2004, by Roy A. Tucker, David J. Tholen, and Fabrizio Bernardi at the Kitt Peak National Observatory.[1] On December 21, 2004, Apophis passed 0.0964 AU (14.42 million km; 8.96 million mi) from Earth.[1] Precovery observations from March 15, 2004, were identified on December 27, and an improved orbit solution was computed.[20][21] Radar astrometry in January 2005 further refined its orbit solution.[22][23] The discovery was notable in that it was at a very low solar elongation (56°) and at very long range (1.1 AU). See diagram below:

Position of 99942 Apophis relative the Earth and Sun, compared to the positions of other NEOs at the time of their discovery[24]

When first discovered, the object received the provisional designation 2004 MN4, and early news and scientific articles naturally referred to it by that name. Once its orbit was sufficiently well calculated, it received the permanent number 99942 (on June 24, 2005). Receiving a permanent number made it eligible for naming by its discoverers, and they chose the name "Apophis" on July 19, 2005.[25] Apophis is the Greek name of Apep, an enemy of the Ancient Egyptian sun-god Ra. He is the Uncreator, an evil serpent that dwells in the eternal darkness of the Duat and tries to swallow Ra during his nightly passage. Apep is held at bay by Set, the Ancient Egyptian god of storms and the desert.

Tholen and Tucker, two of the co-discoverers of the asteroid, are reportedly fans of the television series Stargate SG-1. One of the show's persistent villains is an alien named Apophis. He is one of the principal threats to the existence of civilization on Earth through the first few seasons, thus likely why the asteroid was named after him. In the fictional world of the show, the alien's backstory was that he had lived on Earth during ancient times and had posed as a god, thereby giving rise to the myth of the Egyptian god of the same name.[25]

The mythological creature Apophis is pronounced with the accent on the first syllable (/ˈæpəfɪs/). In contrast, the asteroid's name is generally accented on the second syllable (/əˈpɒfɪs/) as the name was pronounced in the TV series.

Physical characteristics

Comparison between the best-fit convex and nonconvex shape models, and some of the available radar images of (99942) Apophis
Comparison of possible size of Apophis asteroid to Eiffel Tower and Empire State Building

Based upon the observed brightness, Apophis's diameter was initially estimated at 450 metres (1,480 ft); a more refined estimate based on spectroscopic observations at NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii by Binzel, Rivkin, Bus, and Tokunaga (2005) is 350 metres (1,150 ft). NASA's impact risk page lists the diameter at 330 metres (1,080 ft) and lists a mass of 4×1010 kg based on an assumed density of 2.6 g/cm3.[4] The mass estimate is more approximate than the diameter estimate, but should be accurate to within a factor of three.[4] Apophis's surface composition probably matches that of LL chondrites.[26]

Based on Goldstone and Arecibo radar images taken in 2012–2013, Brozović et al. have estimated that Apophis is an elongated object 450 × 170 metres in size, and that it is bilobed (possibly a contact binary) with a relatively bright surface albedo of 0.35±0.10. Its rotation axis has an obliquity of −59° against the ecliptic, which means that Apophis is a retrograde rotator.[3]

During the 2029 approach, Apophis's brightness will peak at magnitude 3.1,[27] easily visible to the naked eye if one knows where to look, with a maximum angular speed of 42° per hour. The maximum apparent angular diameter will be ~2 arcseconds, so that it will be barely resolved by ground-based telescopes not equipped with adaptive optics but very well resolved by those that are.[citation needed] Due to the closeness of the approach, it is likely that tidal forces will alter Apophis's rotation axis. A partial resurfacing of the asteroid is possible, which might change its spectral class from a weathered Sq- to an unweathered Q-type.[3][26]


Close approaches

The closest known approach of Apophis comes on April 13, 2029, when the asteroid comes to within a distance of around 31,000 kilometres from Earth's surface. The distance, a hair's breadth in astronomical terms, is five times the radius of the Earth, ten times closer than the Moon, and even closer than some man-made satellites.[28] It will be the closest asteroid of its size in recorded history. On that date, it will become as bright as magnitude 3.1[27] (visible to the naked eye from rural as well as darker suburban areas, visible with binoculars from most locations).[29] The close approach will be visible from Europe, Africa, and western Asia. During the approach, Earth will perturb Apophis from an Aten-class orbit with a semi-major axis of 0.92 AU to an Apollo-class orbit with a semi-major axis of 1.1 AU.

History of close approaches of large near-Earth objects since 1908 (A)
PHA Date Approach distance in lunar distances Abs. mag
Diameter (C)
Ref (D)
Nominal(B) Minimum Maximum
(152680) 1998 KJ9 1914-12-31 0.606 0.604 0.608 19.4 279–900 data
(458732) 2011 MD5 1918-09-17 0.911 0.909 0.913 17.9 556–1795 data
(163132) 2002 CU11 1925-08-30 0.903 0.901 0.905 18.5 443–477 data
69230 Hermes 1937-10-30 1.926 1.926 1.927 17.5 700-900[30] data
69230 Hermes 1942-04-26 1.651 1.651 1.651 17.5 700-900[30] data
(27002) 1998 DV9 1975-01-31 1.762 1.761 1.762 18.1 507–1637 data
2002 NY40 2002-08-18 1.371 1.371 1.371 19.0 335–1082 data
2004 XP14 2006-07-03 1.125 1.125 1.125 19.3 292–942 data
2015 TB145 2015-10-31 1.266 1.266 1.266 20.0 620-690 data
(137108) 1999 AN10 2027-08-07 1.014 1.010 1.019 17.9 556–1793 data
(153814) 2001 WN5 2028-06-26 0.647 0.647 0.647 18.2 921–943 data
99942 Apophis 2029-04-13 0.0981 0.0963 0.1000 19.7 310–340 data
2017 MB1 2072-07-26 1.216 1.215 2.759 18.8 367–1186 data
2011 SM68 2072-10-17 1.875 1.865 1.886 19.6 254–820 data
(163132) 2002 CU11 2080-08-31 1.655 1.654 1.656 18.5 443–477 data
(416801) 1998 MZ 2116-11-26 1.068 1.068 1.069 19.2 305–986 data
(153201) 2000 WO107 2140-12-01 0.634 0.631 0.637 19.3 427–593 data
(276033) 2002 AJ129 2172-02-08 1.783 1.775 1.792 18.7 385–1242 data
(290772) 2005 VC 2198-05-05 1.951 1.791 2.134 17.6 638–2061 data
(A) This list includes near-Earth approaches of less than 2 lunar distances (LD) of objects with H brighter than 20.
(B) Nominal geocentric distance from the center of Earth to the center of the object (Earth has a radius of approximately 6,400 km).
(C) Diameter: estimated, theoretical mean-diameter based on H and albedo range between X and Y.
(D) Reference: data source from the JPL SBDB, with AU converted into LD (1 AU≈390 LD)
(E) Color codes:   unobserved at close approach   observed during close approach   upcoming approaches

2029/2036/2068 approaches

On April 13, 2029, Apophis will pass Earth closer than geosynchronous communication satellites, but will come no closer than 31,200 kilometres (19,400 mi) above Earth's surface.[12][31] Using the February 2021 orbit solution which includes the Yarkovsky effect, the 3-sigma uncertainty region in the 2029 approach distance is about ±50 km.[1] The 2029 pass will be much closer than the center of the large uncertainty region predicted in 2004 when the observation arc was very short, but well within that region.[11] Using the 2021 orbit solution, the approach in late March 2036 will be no closer than 0.2944 AU (44.04 million km; 27.37 million mi), but more likely about 0.3085 AU (46.15 million km; 28.68 million mi).[1] In the 2060s Apophis is expected to again closely approach Earth in 2066.[1][32] On the risk-listed date of April 12, 2068, Apophis could be more than 1.5 AU (220 million km; 140 million mi) from Earth, making the asteroid further than the Sun.[14] On April 12, 2068, the odds of impact are 1 in 380,000.[4]

Animation of 99942 Apophis's orbit – Close approach in 2029
Around Sun
Around Earth
   Sun ·    Earth ·    99942 Apophis  ·    Moon

Refinement of close approach predictions

Six months after discovery, and shortly after a close approach to Earth on December 21, 2004, the improved orbital estimates led to the prediction of a very close approach on April 13, 2029, by both NASA's automatic Sentry system and NEODyS, a similar automatic program run by the University of Pisa and the University of Valladolid. Subsequent observations decreased the uncertainty in Apophis's trajectory. The probability of an impact event in 2029 temporarily climbed, peaking at 2.7% (1 in 37) on December 27, 2004,[33][34] when the uncertainty region had shrunk to 83,000 km.[35] This probability, combined with its size, caused Apophis to be assessed at level 4 on the Torino scale[11] and 1.10 on the Palermo Technical Impact Hazard Scale, scales scientists use to represent how dangerous a given asteroid is to Earth. These are the highest values for which any object has been rated on either scale. The chance that there would be an impact in 2029 was eliminated by late December 27, 2004, as a result of a precovery image that extended the observation arc back to March 2004.[21] The danger of a 2036 passage was lowered to level 0 on the Torino scale in August 2006.[36] With a cumulative Palermo Scale rating of −3.22,[4] the risk of impact from Apophis is less than one thousandth the background hazard level.[4]

2005 and 2011 observations

In July 2005, former Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart, as chairman of the B612 Foundation, formally asked NASA to investigate the possibility that the asteroid's post-2029 orbit could be in orbital resonance with Earth, which would increase the probability of future impacts. Schweickart also asked NASA to investigate whether a transponder should be placed on the asteroid to enable more accurate tracking of how its orbit is affected by the Yarkovsky effect.[37] On January 31, 2011, astronomers took the first new images of Apophis in more than 3 years.[38]

Illustration of a common trend where progressively reduced uncertainty regions result in an asteroid impact probability increasing followed by a sharp decrease

2013 refinement

The close approach in 2029 will substantially alter the object's orbit, prompting Jon Giorgini of JPL to say in 2011: "If we get radar ranging in 2013 [the next good opportunity], we should be able to predict the location of 2004 MN4 out to at least 2070."[39] Apophis passed within 0.0966 AU (14.45 million km; 8.98 million mi) of Earth in 2013, allowing astronomers to refine the trajectory for future close passes.[8][32][40] Just after the closest approach on January 9, 2013,[32] the asteroid peaked at an apparent magnitude of about 15.7.[41] The Goldstone radar observed Apophis during that approach from January 3 through January 17.[42] The Arecibo Observatory observed Apophis once it entered Arecibo's declination window after February 13, 2013.[42]

A NASA assessment as of February 21, 2013, that did not use the January and February 2013 radar measurements gave an impact probability of 2.3 in a million for 2068.[43] As of May 6, 2013, using observations through April 15, 2013, the odds of an impact on April 12, 2068, as calculated by the JPL Sentry risk table had increased slightly to 3.9 in a million (1 in 256,000).[4]

2015 observations

As of January 2019, Apophis has not been observed since 2015, mostly because its orbit has kept it very near the Sun from the perspective of Earth. It has never been further than 60 degrees from the Sun since April 2014, and will remain so until December 2019. With the most recent 2015 observations, the April 12, 2068, impact probability is now 6.7 in a million (1 in 150,000), and the asteroid has a cumulative 9 in a million (1 in 110,000) chance of impacting Earth before 2106.[44]

2020–21 observations

Apophis in February 2021

Apophis became observable again in early 2020, after it had been barely unobservable since January 2015. In March 2020, astronomers David Tholen and Davide Farnocchia measured the acceleration of Apophis due to the Yarkovsky effect for the first time, significantly improving the prediction of its orbit past the 2029 flyby. Tholen and Farnocchia found that the Yarkovsky effect caused Apophis to drift by about 170 meters per year.[45] In late 2020, Apophis approached the Earth again. It will come within 16.8 million km of Earth on March 6, 2021, brightening to +15 mag at the time. Radar observations of Apophis are planned at Goldstone in March 2021.[18]

The 2021 apparition is the last opportunity to observe Apophis before its 2029 flyby. As of March 2, 2021, the impact probability for April 12, 2068 was given as 2.6 in a million (1 in 380,000), and 4.5 in a million (1 in 220,000) cumulatively before 2107.

History of impact estimates

Date Time Status
2004-12-23 The original NASA report mentioned impact chances of "around 1 in 300" in 2029, which was widely reported in the media.[11] The actual NASA estimates at the time were 1 in 233; these resulted in a Torino scale rating of 2, the first time any asteroid had received a rating above 1.
Later that day, based on a total of 64 observations, the estimates were changed to 1 in 62 (1.6%), resulting in an update to the initial report and an upgrade to a Torino scale rating of 4.
2004-12-25 The chances were first reported as 1 in 42 (2.4%) and later that day (based on 101 observations) as 1 in 45 (2.2%). At the same time, the asteroid's estimated diameter was lowered from 440 m to 390 m and its mass from 1.2×1011 kg to 8.3×1010 kg.
2004-12-26 Based on a total of 169 observations, the impact probability was still estimated as 1 in 45 (2.2%), the estimates for diameter and mass were lowered to 380 m and 7.5×1010 kg, respectively.
2004-12-27 Based on a total of 176 observations with an observation arc of 190 days, the impact probability was raised to 1 in 37 (2.7%)[34] with a line of variation (LOV) of only 83,000 km;[35] diameter was increased to 390 m, and mass to 7.9×1010 kg.
Later that afternoon, a precovery increased the span of observations to 287 days, which eliminated the 2029 impact threat.[21] The cumulative impact probability was estimated to be around 0.004%, a risk lower than that of asteroid 2004 VD17, which once again became the greatest-risk object. A 2053 approach to Earth still poses a minor risk of impact, and Apophis was still rated at level one on the Torino scale for this orbit.
2004-12-28 12:23 GMT Based on a total of 139 observations, a value of one was given on the Torino scale for 2044-04-13.29 and 2053-04-13.51.
2004-12-29 01:10 GMT The only pass rated 1 on the Torino scale was for 2053-04-13.51 based on 139 observations spanning 287.71 days (2004-Mar-15.1104 to 2004-Dec-27.8243). (As of February 2013[update] the 2053 risk is only 1 in 20 billion.)[4]
19:18 GMT This was still the case based upon 147 observations spanning 288.92 days (2004-Mar-15.1104 to 2004-Dec-29.02821), though the close encounters have changed and been reduced to 4 in total.
2004-12-30 13:46 GMT No passes were rated above 0, based upon 157 observations spanning 289.33 days (2004-Mar-15.1104 to 2004-Dec-29.44434). The most dangerous pass was rated at 1 in 7,143,000.
22:34 GMT 157 observations spanning 289.33 days (2004-Mar-15.1104 to 2004-Dec-29.44434). One pass at 1 (Torino scale) 3 other passes.
2005-01-02 03:57 GMT Observations spanning 290.97 days (2004-Mar-15.1104 to 2004-Dec-31.07992) One pass at 1 (Torino scale) 19 other passes.
2005-01-03 14:49 GMT Observations spanning 292.72 days (2004-Mar-15.1104 to 2005-Jan-01.82787) One pass at 1 (Torino scale) 15 other passes.
2005–01 Extremely precise radar observations at Arecibo Observatory[22] refine the orbit further and show that the April 2029 close approach will occur at only 5.7 Earth radii,[23] approximately one-half the distance previously estimated.
2005-02-06 Apophis (2004 MN4) had a 1-in-13,000 chance of impacting in April 2036.[46]
2005-08-07 Radar observation[22] refines the orbit further and eliminates the possibility of an impact in 2035. Only the pass in 2036 remains at Torino scale 1 (with a 1-in-5,560 chance of impact).[47]
2005–10 It is predicted that the asteroid will pass just below the altitude of geosynchronous satellites, which are at approximately 35,900 kilometres (22,300 mi).[48] Such a close approach by an asteroid is estimated to occur every 800 years or so.[49]
2006-05-06 Radar observation at Arecibo Observatory[22] slightly lowered the Palermo scale rating, but the pass in 2036 remained at Torino scale 1[50] despite the impact probability dropping by a factor of four.
2006-08-05 Additional observations through 2006 resulted in Apophis being lowered to Torino scale 0.[36] (The impact probability was 1 in 45,000.)[36]
2008-04 Nico Marquardt published a research paper in which he calculated the probability of Apophis to collide with a geosynchronous satellite during its flyby on April 13, 2029, and the consequences of this event to the likelihood of an Earth-collision 2036. Afterwards, the German newspaper Bild published an article stating a 100 times higher probability of an Earth-collision in the year 2036 than Marquardt calculated.[51] Nearly all international press reported the news with false data caused by the review from Bild even though Marquardt denied.[52] This estimate was allegedly confirmed by ESA and NASA[53][54] but in an official statement,[55] NASA denied the wrong statement. The release went on to explain that since the angle of Apophis's approach to the Earth's equator means the asteroid will not travel through the belt of current equatorial geosynchronous satellites, there is currently no risk of collision; and the effect on Apophis's orbit of any such impact would be insignificant.
2008-04-16 NASA News Release 08-103 reaffirmed that its estimation of a 1-in-45,000 chance of impact in 2036 remained valid.[55]
2009-04-29 An animation is released[56] that shows how unmeasured physical parameters of Apophis bias the entire statistical uncertainty region. If Apophis is a retrograde rotator on the small, less-massive end of what is possible, the measurement uncertainty region will get pushed back such that the center of the distribution encounters Earth's orbit. This would result in an impact probability much higher than computed with the Standard Dynamical Model. Conversely, if Apophis is a small, less-massive prograde rotator, the uncertainty region is advanced along the orbit. Only the remote tails of the probability distribution could encounter Earth, producing a negligible impact probability.
2009-10-07 Refinements to the precovery images of Apophis by the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy, the 90-inch Bok Telescope, and the Arecibo Observatory have generated a refined path that reduces the odds of an April 13, 2036, impact to about 1 in 250,000.[57]
Criticism of older published impact probabilities rests on the fact that important physical parameters such as mass and spin that affect its precise trajectory have not yet been accurately measured and hence there are no associated probability distributions. The Standard Dynamical Model used for making predictions simplifies calculations by assuming Earth is a point mass; this can introduce up to 2.9 Earth radii of prediction error for the 2036 approach, and Earth's oblateness must be considered for the 2029 passage to predict a potential impact reliably.[49] Additional factors that can greatly influence the predicted motion in ways that depend on unknown details, are the spin of the asteroid,[58] its precise mass, the way it reflects and absorbs sunlight, radiates heat, and the gravitational pull of other asteroids passing nearby.[49] Small uncertainties in the masses and positions of the planets and Sun can cause up to 23 Earth radii of prediction error for Apophis by 2036.[49]
2013-01 A statistical impact risk analysis of the data up to this point calculated that the odds of the 2036 impact at 7.07 in a billion, effectively ruling it out. The same study looked at the odds of an impact in 2068, which were calculated at 2.27 in a million.[59]
2013-01-09 The European Space Agency (ESA) announced the Herschel Space Observatory made new thermal infrared observations of the asteroid as it approached Earth. The initial data shows the asteroid to be bigger than first estimated because it is now expected to be less reflective than originally thought.[8] The Herschel Space Observatory observations increased the diameter estimate by 20% from 270 to 325 metres, which translates into a 75% increase in the estimates of the asteroid's volume or mass.[8] Goldstone single-pixel observations of Apophis have ruled out the potential 2036 Earth impact.[12][60][61] Apophis will then come no closer than about 23 million kilometres (14×10^6 mi)—and more likely miss us by something closer to 56 million kilometres (35×10^6 mi).[60] The radar astrometry is more precise than was expected.[60]
2016-03-25 The Sentry Risk Table assessed Apophis as having a 6.7-in-a-million (1-in-150,000) chance of impacting Earth in 2068, and a 9-in-a-million (1-in-110,000) cumulative chance of impacting Earth by 2105.[4]
2020-03 By taking observations of Apophis with the Subaru Telescope in January and March 2020, as well as remeasuring older observations using the new Gaia DR2 star catalog, astronomers positively detect the Yarkovsky effect on Apophis. The asteroid's position is found to shift by 170 meters per year. The Yarkovsky effect is the main source of uncertainty in impact probability estimates for this asteroid.[45]
2021-02 Observations in 2020 and 2021 reduced the 3-sigma uncertainty region in the 2029 approach distance from ±700 km[62] to ±50 km.[1]

Possible impact effects

The Sentry Risk Table estimates that Apophis would impact Earth with kinetic energy equivalent to 1,200 megatons of TNT.[4] The impacts that created Meteor Crater, Arizona about 50,000 years ago and the Tunguska event of 1908 are estimated to be between 3–10 megatons.[63] The biggest hydrogen bomb ever exploded, the Tsar Bomba, was around 57 megatons while the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa was the equivalent of roughly 200 megatons. In comparison, the Chicxulub impact has been estimated to have released about as much energy as 100,000,000 megatons (100 teratons).

The exact effects of any impact would vary based on the asteroid's composition, and the location and angle of impact. Any impact would be extremely detrimental to an area of thousands of square kilometres, but would be unlikely to have long-lasting global effects, such as the initiation of an impact winter.[citation needed] Assuming Apophis is a 370-metre-wide (1,210 ft) stony asteroid with a density of 3,000 kg/m3, if it were to impact into sedimentary rock, Apophis would create a 5.1-kilometre (17,000 ft) impact crater.[16]

Expired 2036 path of risk

In 2008, the B612 Foundation made estimates of Apophis's path if a 2036 Earth impact were to occur, as part of an effort to develop viable deflection strategies.[64] The result was a narrow corridor a few kilometres wide, called the "path of risk", extending across southern Russia, across the north Pacific (relatively close to the coastlines of California and Mexico), then right between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, crossing northern Colombia and Venezuela, ending in the Atlantic, just before reaching Africa.[65] Using the computer simulation tool NEOSim, it was estimated that the hypothetical impact of Apophis in countries such as Colombia and Venezuela, which were in the path of risk, could have more than 10 million casualties.[66] A deep-water impact in the Atlantic or Pacific oceans would produce an incoherent short-range tsunami with a potential destructive radius (inundation height of >2 m) of roughly 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) for most of North America, Brazil and Africa, 3,000 km (1,900 mi) for Japan and 4,500 km (2,800 mi) for some areas in Hawaii.[67]

Potential space missions

Planetary Society competition

In 2007, The Planetary Society, a California-based space advocacy group, organized a $50,000 competition to design an uncrewed space probe that would 'shadow' Apophis for almost a year, taking measurements that would "determine whether it will impact Earth, thus helping governments decide whether to mount a deflection mission to alter its orbit". The society received 37 entries from 20 countries on 6 continents.

The commercial competition was won by a design called 'Foresight' created by SpaceWorks Enterprises, Inc.[68] SpaceWorks proposed a simple orbiter with only two instruments and a radio beacon at a cost of ~US$140 million, launched aboard a Minotaur IV between 2012 and 2014, to arrive at Apophis five to ten months later. It would then rendezvous with, observe, and track the asteroid. Foresight would orbit the asteroid to gather data with a multi-spectral imager for one month. It would then leave orbit and fly in formation with Apophis around the Sun at a range of two kilometres (1.2 miles). The spacecraft would use laser ranging to the asteroid and radio tracking from Earth for ten months to accurately determine the asteroid's orbit and how it might change.

Pharos, the winning student entry, would be an orbiter with four science instruments (a multi-spectral imager, near-infrared spectrometer, laser rangefinder, and magnetometer) that would rendezvous with and track Apophis. Earth-based tracking of the spacecraft would then allow precise tracking of the asteroid. The Pharos spacecraft would also carry four instrumented probes that it would launch individually over the course of two weeks. Accelerometers and temperature sensors on the probes would measure the seismic effects of successive probe impacts, a creative way to explore the interior structure and dynamics of the asteroid.

Second place, for $10,000, went to a European team led by Deimos Space S.L. of Madrid, Spain, in cooperation with EADS Astrium, Friedrichshafen, Germany; University of Stuttgart, Germany; and University of Pisa, Italy. Juan L. Cano was principal investigator.

Another European team took home $5,000 for third place. Their team lead was EADS Astrium Ltd, United Kingdom, in conjunction with EADS Astrium SAS, France; IASF-Roma, INAF, Rome, Italy; Open University, UK; Rheinisches Institut für Umweltforschung, Germany; Royal Observatory of Belgium; and Telespazio, Italy. The principal investigator was Paolo D'Arrigo.

Two teams tied for second place in the Student Category: Monash University, Clayton Campus, Australia, with Dilani Kahawala as principal investigator; and University of Michigan, with Jeremy Hollander as principal investigator. Each second-place team won $2,000. A team from Hong Kong Polytechnic University and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, under the leadership of Peter Weiss, received an honorable mention and $1,000 for the most innovative student proposal.

Planned Chinese mission

China plans an exploration fly-by mission to Apophis in 2022, several years prior to the close approach in 2029. This fly-by mission to Apophis is part of an asteroid exploration mission planned after China's Mars mission in 2022 currently in development, according to Ji Jianghui, a researcher at the Purple Mountain Observatory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and a member of the expert committee for scientific goal argumentation of deep space exploration in China. The whole mission will include exploration and close study of three asteroids by sending a probe to fly side by side with Apophis for a period to conduct close observation, and land on the asteroid 1996 FG3 to conduct in situ sampling analysis on the surface. The probe is also expected to conduct a fly-by of a third asteroid to be determined at a later time. The whole mission would last around six years, said Ji.[69]

Don Quijote mission

Apophis is one of two asteroids that were considered by the European Space Agency as the target of its Don Quijote mission concept to study the effects of impacting an asteroid.[70]

Potential OSIRIS-REx rendezvous

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is expected to return a sample of Bennu to Earth in 2023. After ejecting the sample canister, the spacecraft can use its remaining fuel to target another body during an extended mission. Apophis is the only asteroid which the spacecraft could reach for a long-duration rendezvous, rather than a brief flyby. If the extension is approved, OSIRIS-REx would perform a rendezvous with Apophis in April 2029, a few days after the close approach to Earth. An application for the mission extension is expected in 2022.[71][72]

Proposed deflection strategies

Studies by NASA, ESA,[73] and various research groups in addition to the Planetary Society contest teams,[74] have described a number of proposals for deflecting Apophis or similar objects, including gravitational tractor, kinetic impact, and nuclear bomb methods.

On December 30, 2009, Anatoly Perminov, the director of the Russian Federal Space Agency, said in an interview that Roscosmos will also study designs for a possible deflection mission to Apophis.[75]

On August 16, 2011, researchers at China's Tsinghua University proposed launching a mission to knock Apophis onto a safer course using an impactor spacecraft in a retrograde orbit, steered and powered by a solar sail. Instead of moving the asteroid on its potential resonant return to Earth, Shengping Gong and his team believe the secret is shifting the asteroid away from entering the gravitational keyhole in the first place.[76]

On February 15, 2016, Sabit Saitgarayev, of the Makeyev Rocket Design Bureau, announced intentions to use Russian ICBMs to target relatively small near-Earth objects. Although the report stated that likely targets would be between the 20 to 50 metres in size, it was also stated that 99942 Apophis would be an object subject to tests by the program.[77]

Popular culture


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External links

Risk assessment


Preceded by
(153814) 2001 WN5
Large NEO Earth close approach
(inside the orbit of the Moon)

13 April 2029
Succeeded by
2012 UE34