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Business News/ Science / NASA relaunches spacecraft to study 'God of Chaos' asteroid Apophis | Here's why
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NASA relaunches spacecraft to study 'God of Chaos' asteroid Apophis | Here's why

OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, that helped bringing a sample of asteroid Bennu to Earth, is “already well on its way with a new name to explore a new destination (Apophis)”, the NASA said.

These images of asteroid Apophis were recorded in March 2021 by radio antennas at the Deep Space Network’s Goldstone complex in California and the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. The asteroid was 10.6 million miles (17 million kilometers) away, and each pixel has a resolution of 127 feet (38.75 meters). (NASA/JPL-Caltech and NSF/AUI/GBO)Premium
These images of asteroid Apophis were recorded in March 2021 by radio antennas at the Deep Space Network’s Goldstone complex in California and the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. The asteroid was 10.6 million miles (17 million kilometers) away, and each pixel has a resolution of 127 feet (38.75 meters). (NASA/JPL-Caltech and NSF/AUI/GBO)

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has relaunched a spacecraft to study asteroid Apophis. The former OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has now been renamed OSIRIS-APEx. OSIRIS-REx had carried out a seven-year journey to bring Earth a sample of asteroid Bennu.

OSIRIS-REx is now "already well on its way with a new name to explore a new destination (Apophis)", the NASA said.

In a statement on December 22, the US space agency said, "The former OSIRIS-REx spacecraft sets off on a (seven-year, 4 billion-mile journey) journey to study asteroid Apophis and take advantage of the asteroid’s 2029 flyby of Earth, the likes of which hasn’t happened since the dawn of recorded history."

 

Why study Apophis?

When Apophis was discovered in 2004, the asteroid was gained notoriety as one of the most hazardous asteroids that could impact Earth. However, the risk of an impact in 2029 was later ruled out. "...that impact assessment changed after astronomers tracked Apophis, and its orbit became better determined," the NASA said.

Apophis, about 1,100 feet (340 meters) in width, is expected to "safely pass close to Earth – within 19,794 miles (31,860 kilometers) from our planet’s surface – on April 13, 2029". This will be the closest approach to Earth by an asteroid of this size that scientists have known about in advance.

"The intrigue of Apophis is its exceptionally close approach of our planet (Earth) on April 13, 2029," the NASA said. However, it won't hit Earth during the encounter.

ALSO READ: Earth had close shave with over 100 Vatican City, Burj Khalifa-sized asteroids in 2023: NASA's top targets unveiled

"Although Apophis will not hit Earth during this encounter or in the foreseeable future, the pass in 2029 will bring the asteroid within 20,000 miles (32,000 kilometers) of the surface – closer than some satellites, and close enough that it could be visible to the naked eye in the Eastern Hemisphere," the space agency added.

Moreover, "the close approach is a great natural experiment", said Dani Mendoza DellaGiustina, principal investigator for OSIRIS-APEX at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Apophis’ close encounter with Earth is expected to change the asteroid’s orbit and the length of its 30.6-hour day. "The encounter also may cause quakes and landslides on the asteroid’s surface that could churn up material and uncover what lies beneath," the NASA said.

“OSIRIS-APEX will study Apophis immediately after such a pass, allowing us to see how its surface changes by interacting with Earth’s gravity," said Amy Simon, the mission’s project scientist based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

ALSO READ: NASA launches spacecraft to explore metal-rich asteroid Psyche; Here's what it expects to find

Key facts about Asteroid Apophis

Apophis is named for the demon serpent who personified evil and chaos in ancient Egyptian mythology. AccordIng to several reports, Asteroid Apophis is better known as the 'God of Chaos'.

It is a near-Earth object (NEO) estimated to be about 1,100 feet (340 meters) across. Asteroid Apophis is made of silicate materials and nickel-iron – a fair bit different than the carbon-rich, “C-type" Bennu.

As per the NASA, the asteroid originated in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

"Over millions of years, its orbit was changed primarily by the gravitational influence of large planets like Jupiter so that it now orbits the Sun closer to Earth. As a result, Apophis is classified as a near-Earth asteroid, as opposed to a main-belt asteroid," NASA said.

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Published: 29 Dec 2023, 03:30 PM IST
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