Asteroid Apophis's Jan. 9 Fly-by Won't Be Its Closest
January 9, 2013 • 11:24AM

For the second time this century, the asteroid Apophis will pass by Earth this Wednesday, Jan. 9. It will whiz by even closer in 2029, and has a small chance of colliding with Earth in 2036. Aphophis's fly-by tomorrow will be at a safe distance of 14.5 million kilometers. But on April 13, 2029, it will come within 30,000 km, one-tenth the distance to the Moon, and closer than the 36,000 km of communications satellites' orbits.

The Guardian reports that Apophis is on the list of Potentially Hazardous Asteroids kept by the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center. Russia has announced that it has tentative plans to land a tracking beacon on Apophis sometime after 2020, so that its orbit can more precisely be tracked.

As EIRNS reported late last month, Apophis is but one of an estimated 20,000 potentially dangerous asteroids surrounding Earth, but scientists have been able to identify only about 1,000 of them. The Age of Australia reports that on Feb. 15, asteroid 2012 DA 14 will come within 34,500 km of Earth.

Were Apophis, a 300-meter-wide space rock, allowed to hit the Earth in 2036, the Daily Mail reports, NASA has calculated that it would generate a blast equivalent to 500 megatons of TNT. In comparison, the most powerful hydrogen bomb ever detonated, the Soviet Tsar Bomba, released 57 megatons. The Australian news.com says, "If the asteroid were to hit Earth in 2036, it would explode with the power of 100,000 Hiroshima nuclear bombs. Thousands of kilometres will be affected directly, and the cloud of smoke and dust will [sic] envelop the planet."

Discovered in 2004, Apophis is named for a demon serpent of Egyptian mythology. The Philippine Daily Inquirer notes today that Apophis is the ancient Egyptian spirit of evil, darkness, and destruction, and is associated with natural events such as solar eclipses, storms, and earthquakes. The myth says that the Sun god Ra destroys Apophis every morning at dawn, a job that mankind would do well to learn to mimic long before 2036.