An asteroid named after the ancient Egyptian god of chaos is hurtling through space and is making its way towards earth. Scientists predict that the Apophis asteroid may even collide with our planet in 2068. This is what we know so far. (1)
Apophis Asteroid Headed for Earth
In 2004, researchers from the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy discovered a 330-meter wide asteroid. They named it Apophis, after the Egyptian God of chaos, also known as the serpent god who tried to swallow the sun. (1)
They have been tracking the Apophis asteroid since then and have so far determined that it will come close to Earth in the year 2029. Nearly forty years later, they predict that there is a possibility that Apophis could actually hit our planet. (1)
Why do they think that this could be possible? Because Apophis is picking up speed at an alarming rate. (1)
The Yarkovsky Effect
The reason why Apophis asteroid is speeding up so much is because of something called the Yarkovsky Effect. This effect occurs when the asteroid’s thermal radiation is not cohesive, aka parts of the asteroid are heating up faster than others. (2)
Originally the researchers thought that it would just shoot past earth in 2068 based on the speed Apophis was going. The biggest issue with the Yarkovsky effect is that it makes it extremely difficult to predict how the asteroid will move over longer time spans. (2)
Essentially, this effect may cause Apophis’ route to alter slightly, which is why they said there is potential that it could collide with Earth. (3)
“Without taking Yarkovsky drift into account, Apophis is still a threatening object, just not in 2068,” Dave Tholen, a researcher from the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii and a co-author of the pending study. “With Yarkovsky taken into account, the 2068 impact scenario is still in play. Small, but non-zero.” (3)
Though it may not be a massive risk, the Apophis asteroid still holds the title of third-highest threat on NASA’s Sentry Risk Table. According to the numbers, there’s a 1 in 150,000 (or 0.00067%) chance that the asteroid will hit the Earth on April 12, 2068. (3) Though it’s a small risk, scientists insist it still needs to be monitored.
How Bad Would a Collision Be?
Apophis asteroid is over three football fields wide and is full of nickel and iron. An impact with Earth would release the equivalent of 1,151 megatons of TNT. An event like this only happens on our planet about every 80,000 years. (3)
The other two asteroids that are number one and two for the most risk for impacting Earth are DA with a 0.012% and asteroid Bennu with a 0.037% chance. (3)
The Bottom Line
Though the risk is low, it is not zero. The researchers will continue to monitor the asteroid over the next few decades in order to have an opportunity to act before it Apophis asteroid can cause any devastation. (1) Though I think we’ll be able to sleep at night.