Earth has experienced many close calls with asteroids from space throughout its 4.5-billion-years history. Moon was also created by one huge collision. Many other objects also joined our planet, causing extensive disruption. Just ask the dinosaurs, whose demise came suddenly 65 million years ago by a space rock a few hundred meters across. The investigators are on the lookout for incoming intruders as it could happen again. There are regular investigations for objects that might come too close to our planet’s orbit and could create mass disruption if they hit.
Apophis: The Earth-orbit-crossing Asteroid
The planetary scientists, in 2004, identified an asteroid that appeared to be on impact route towards the Earth within a few decades. Considering, there is no way to divert incoming asteroids yet, the discovery was a warning.
There were three discoverers, Roy A. Tucker, David Tholen, and Fabrizio Bernardi. All three discovers used Kitt Peak Observatory (KPO) to find the rock, and once they authenticated its existence, assigned a temporary number to it – 2004 MN4. But later on, the rock was given a permanent asteroid number of 99942 and they recommended it be named Apophis after a villain in the show “Stargate”. After the discovery of Apophis, a lot of calculations were performed, based on orbital dynamics. The calculations showed that it is very possible that this small bit of spacerock would be directed considerately at Earth. No one was sure whether it would hit the Earth or not, but it looked clear that Apophis would pass through a gravitational keyhole near Earth that would divert its orbit just enough that the spacerock would conflict with the planer in 2036. This investigation was not less than a scary prospect and people began observing the orbit of Apophis very closely.
Missions to Apophis
After this approaching miss, a number of groups at NASA, ESA, and different space research establishments began looking at chances to divert and study this asteroid. There are various ways to modify an asteroid’s path, given the right time and technology. It came out of research that attaching rockets or missiles to smoothly push the Apophis slightly off its path would work. Although scientists following this mission necessitate being very careful not to divert it into a more serious orbit. Another idea that appeared out of the investigation is to use a gravitation tractor to orbit a spacecraft around the asteroid and use the common gravitational pull to improve the Apophis’ trajectory. As for now, no specific deputations are underway, but as more asteroids are seen, such a technological solution may get built to prevent future devastation. There are roughly 1,500 known NEOs orbiting out there in the dark, and there could be many more. So for now, we don’t have to worry about Apophis making a direct hit on our planet.