Jan 10 2013, 3:03pm CST | by Jeffrey B. Roth
PARIS, France – Often touted as possible doomsday asteroid, Apophis, named for an Egyptian demon serpent that is destroyed every morning with the dawn of Ra, the sun god, passed the earth safely Wednesday night.
Scientists with the European Space Agency using the Hershel space observatory took the opportunity to get a closer look at the near Earth asteroid. Discovered in 2004, it was estimated that Apophis has a 2.7-percent chance of colliding with the Earth in April 2029.
Scientists later ruled out the chance of a 2029 impact, but noted the 1.066-foot wide asteroid may pass within 36,000 km, which is closer than some geostationary satellites. When the asteroid returns in 2036, it mat pass even closer to Earth, but scientists won't be able to predict its orbit with any accuracy until after the 2029 encounter.
Visible as a bright light moving across the night sky, on Wednesday, Apophis came within 14.5 million km., or 9.3 million miles of the Earth, or about one-tenth of the distance between the Earth and Sun. Scientists discovered that the asteroid is about 20-percent bigger and less reflective than originally estimated.
“As well as the data being scientifically important in their own right, understanding key properties of asteroids will provide vital details for missions that might eventually visit potentially hazardous objects,” says Laurence O'Rourke, Principal Investigator of the MACH-11 observing program, from the European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC), near Madrid, Spain.” Apophis is only the second near-Earth asteroid observed by Herschel, and these were the fastest tracked observations by the space telescope – the asteroid moved at a rate of 205 arc seconds per hour as seen from Herschel’s viewpoint.”
Apophis is the second near Earth asteroid observed by Herschel. Video of the asteroid passing Earth is available at The Virtual Telescope.
Jeffrey B. Roth
A multi-award winning writer, Jeffrey B. Roth is a well-known investigative reporter, who covers crime, law, politics, sciences, business, medicine, education, history and a wide range of other topics. In 2010, Roth won first place for a new series in the Keystone Press Awards, sponsored by the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association. A published short story writer and poet, Roth is listed in the Locus Index of Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors. Currently, Roth writes for CBS Philadelphia, CBS Baltimore, the Philadelphia Examiner and regional publications, including Carroll Magazine, Carroll Business Quarterly and Hagerstown Magazine to name a few. In the past, Roth, a former crisis intervention counselor and teacher, has written for numerous Pennsylvania newspapers, state and national magazines and the Associated Press. He lives in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, west of Gettysburg, Pa.
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