99942 Apophis

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99942 Apophis
Discovered by Roy A. Tucker,
David J. Tholen, and
Fabrizio Bernardi
Discovery date June 19, 2004
Alternate name 2004 MN4
Minor planet
Epoch November 26, 2005 (JD 2453700.5)
Aphelion 164.351 Gm (1.099 AU)
Perihelion 111.633 Gm (0.746 AU)
Semi-major axis 137.992 Gm (0.922 AU)
Eccentricity 0.191
Orbital period 323.587 d (0.89 a)
Average orbital speed 30.728 km/s
Mean anomaly 111.000°
Inclination 3.331°
Longitude of ascending node 204.466°
Argument of perihelion 126.364°
Physical characteristics
Dimensions ~270 m[1]
Mass 2.1 × 1010 kg[2]
Mean density ? g/cm³
Equatorial surface gravity ?
Escape velocity ~0.52 km/h[3]
Rotation period ~30 h[4]
Albedo 0.33[1][4]
Temperature ~290 K (assuming 0.1 albedo)
Spectral type ?
Absolute magnitude (H) 19.7[1][4]

99942 Apophis (pronounced /əˈpɒfɪs/, previously known by its provisional designation 2004 MN4) is a near-Earth asteroid that caused a brief period of concern in December 2004 because initial observations indicated a significant probability (up to 2.7%) that it would strike the Earth in 2029. Additional observations provided improved predictions that eliminated the possibility of an impact on Earth or the Moon in 2029. However, a possibility remained that during the 2029 close encounter with Earth, Apophis would pass through a gravitational keyhole, a precise region in space no more than about 600 meters across, that would set up a future impact on April 13, 2036. This possibility kept the asteroid at Level 1 on the Torino impact hazard scale until August 2006. It broke the record for the highest level on the Torino Scale, being, for only a short time, a level 4, before it was lowered.[5]

Additional observations of the trajectory of Apophis revealed the keyhole would likely be missed and on August 5, 2006 Apophis was lowered to a Level 0 on the Torino Scale. As of April 16, 2008, the impact probability for April 13, 2036, is calculated as 1 in 45,000.[6] An additional impact date in 2037 was also identified; the impact probability for that encounter was calculated as 1 in 12.3 million.

Many scientists agree that Apophis warrants closer scrutiny and, to that end, in February 2008 the Planetary Society awarded $50,000 in prize money to companies and students who submitted designs for space probes that would put a tracking device on or near the asteroid.[7][not in citation given]


[edit] Basic data

Based upon the observed brightness, Apophis's length was estimated at 450 metres (1,500 ft); a more refined estimate based on spectroscopic observations at NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii by Binzel, Rivkin, Bus, and Tokunaga (2005) is 350 metres (1,100 ft).

In October 2005 it was predicted that the asteroid will pass just below the altitude of geosynchronous satellites, which are at 35,786 kilometres (22,236 mi). Such a close approach by an asteroid of this size is expected to occur only every 1,300 years or so. Apophis’s brightness will peak at magnitude 3.3, with a maximum angular speed of 42° per hour. The maximum apparent angular diameter will be ~2 arcseconds, so that it will be barely resolved by telescopes not equipped with adaptive optics.

[edit] Naming

When first discovered, the object received the provisional designation 2004 MN4 (sometimes written 2004 MN4), and news and scientific articles about it referred to it by that name. When its orbit was sufficiently well calculated it received the permanent number 99942 (on June 24, 2005). Receiving a permanent number made it eligible for naming, and it received the name "Apophis" on July 19, 2005. Apophis is the Greek name of the Ancient Egyptian enemy of Ra: Apep, the Uncreator, a serpent that dwells in the eternal darkness of the Duat (underworld) and tries to swallow Ra during His nightly passage. Apep is held at bay by Set, the Ancient Egyptian god of Chaos.

Although the Greek name for the Egyptian god may be appropriate, Tholen and Tucker — two of the co-discovers of the asteroid — are reportedly fans of the TV series Stargate SG-1. The show's main antagonist in the first several seasons was an alien named Apophis who took the name for the Egyptian god and sought to destroy Earth.[8]

Close approach of Apophis on April 13, 2029
The white bar indicates uncertainty in the range of positions
99942 Apophis

[edit] Close approaches

After the Minor Planet Center confirmed the June discovery of Apophis, an April 13, 2029 close approach was flagged by the NASA's automatic Sentry system and NEODyS, a similar automatic program run by the University of Pisa and the University of Valladolid. On that date, it will become as bright as magnitude 3.3 (visible to the naked eye from rural and some darker suburban areas, visible with binoculars from most locations[9]). This close approach will be visible from Europe, Africa, and western Asia. As a result of its close passage, it will move from the Aten to the Apollo class.

After Sentry and NEODyS announced the possible impact, additional observations decreased the uncertainty in Apophis' trajectory. As they did, the probability of an impact event temporarily climbed, peaking at 2.7% (1 in 37). Combined with its size, this caused Apophis to be assessed at level 4 on the Torino Scale and 1.10 on the Palermo scale, scales scientists use to represent the danger of an asteroid hitting Earth. These are the highest values for which any object has been rated on either scale.

On Friday, April 13, 2029, Apophis will pass Earth within the orbits of geosynchronous communication satellites.[10] It will return for another close Earth approach in 2036.

Precovery observations from March 15, 2004 were identified on December 27, and an improved orbit was computed.[11] Radar astrometry further refined the orbit. The 2029 pass will actually be much closer than the first predictions, but the uncertainty is such that an impact is ruled out. Similarly, the pass on April 13, 2036 carries little risk of an impact.

[edit] 2013

The close approach in 2029 will substantially alter the object's orbit, making predictions uncertain without more data. "If we get radar ranging in 2013 [the next good opportunity], we should be able to predict the location of 2004 MN4 out to at least 2070." said Jon Giorgini of JPL.[12] Apophis will pass within 0.09666 AU (14.4 million km) of the Earth on 2013-01-09 allowing astronomers to refine the trajectory for future close passes.[13]

In July 2005, former Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart, as chairman of the B612 Foundation, formally asked NASA to investigate the possibility that the asteroid's post-2029 orbit could be in orbital resonance with Earth, which would increase the probability of future impacts. Schweickart asked for an investigation of the necessity of placing a transponder on the asteroid for more accurate tracking of how its orbit is affected by the Yarkovsky effect.[14]

[edit] History of impact estimates

Illustration of a common trend where progressively reduced uncertainty regions result in an asteroid impact probability increasing followed by a sharp decrease.
  • The original NASA report on December 23, 2004, mentioned impact chances of "around 1 in 300", which was widely reported in the media.[5] The actual NASA estimates at the time were 1 in 233; they resulted in the Torino scale rating of 2, the first time any asteroid had received a rating above 1.
  • Later that day, based on a total of 64 observations, the estimates were changed to 1 in 62 (1.6%), resulting in an update to the initial report and an upgrade to a Torino scale rating of 4.
  • On December 25, the chances were first reported as 1 in 42 (2.4%) and later that day (based on 101 observations) as 1 in 45 (2.2%). At the same time, the asteroid's estimated diameter was lowered from 440 m to 390 m and its mass from 1.2×1011 kg to 8.3×1010 kg.
  • On December 26 (based on a total of 169 observations), the impact probability was still estimated as 1 in 45 (2.2%), the estimates for diameter and mass were lowered to 380 m and 7.5×1010 kg, respectively.
  • On December 27 (based on a total of 176 observations), the impact probability was raised to 1 in 37 (2.7%); diameter was increased to 390 m, and mass to 7.9×1010 kg.
  • On December 27 in the afternoon, a precovery increased the span of observations to 287 days and allowed more accurate calculations to re-rate the asteroid's 2029 approach as level zero on the Torino scale (no threat). The cumulative impact probability was estimated to be around 0.004%, a lower risk than asteroid 2004 VD17, which once again became the greatest risk object. A 2053 approach to Earth still poses a minor risk of impact, and Apophis was still rated at level one on the Torino scale for this orbit.
  • On December 28 at 12:23 GMT and (based on a total of 139 observations), produced a value of one on the Torino scale for 2044-04-13.29 and 2053-04-13.51.
  • By 01:10 GMT on December 29 the only pass rated 1 on the Torino scale was for 2053-04-13.51 based on 139 observations spanning 287.71 days (2004-Mar-15.1104 to 2004-Dec-27.8243).
  • By 19:18 GMT on December 29 this was still the case based upon 147 observations spanning 288.92 days (2004-Mar-15.1104 to 2004-Dec-29.02821), though the close encounters have changed and been reduced to 4 in total.
  • By 13:46 GMT on December 30 no passes were rated above 0, based upon 157 observations spanning 289.33 days (2004-Mar-15.1104 to 2004-Dec-29.44434). The most dangerous pass was rated at 1 in 7,143,000.
  • By 22:34 GMT on December 30, 157 observations spanning 289.33 days (2004-Mar-15.1104 to 2004-Dec-29.44434). One pass at 1 (Torino scale) 3 other passes.
  • By 03:57 GMT on January 2, 2005, 182 observations spanning 290.97 days (2004-Mar-15.1104 to 2004-Dec-31.07992) One pass at 1 (Torino scale) 19 other passes.
  • By 14:49 GMT on January 3, 2005 observations spanning 292.72 days (2004-Mar-15.1104 to 2005-Jan-01.82787) One pass at 1 (Torino scale) 15 other passes.
  • Extremely precise radar observations at Arecibo Observatory on January 27, 28, and 30 refine the orbit further and show that the April, 2029 close approach will occur at only 5.6 Earth radii, approximately one-half the distance previously estimated.
  • A radar observation on August 7, 2005, refines the orbit further and eliminates the possibility of an impact in 2035. Only the pass in 2036 remains at Torino Scale 1.
  • A new radar observation at Arecibo Observatory on May 6, 2006 slightly lowered the Palermo scale rating, but the pass in 2036 remained at Torino Scale 1 despite the impact probability dropping by a factor of four.[15]
  • Additional observations through 2006 resulted in Apophis being lowered to Torino Scale 0 on August 6, 2006. Around this time, the impact probability was lowered to 1 in 45,000.

[edit] Possible impact effects

NASA initially estimated the energy that Apophis would have released if it struck Earth as the equivalent of 1,480 megatons of TNT. A later, more refined NASA estimate was 880 megatons.[2] The impacts which created the Barringer Crater or caused the Tunguska event are estimated to be in the 3-10 megaton range[16] The 1883 eruption of Krakatoa was the equivalent of roughly 200 megatons.

Path of risk where 99942 Apophis may impact Earth in 2036.

The exact effects of any impact would vary based on the asteroid's composition, and the location and angle of impact. Any impact would be extremely detrimental to an area of thousands of square kilometres, but would be unlikely to have long-lasting global effects, such as the initiation of an impact winter.

The B612 Foundation made estimates of Apophis path if a 2036 Earth impact were to occur as part of an effort to develop viable deflection strategies.[17] The result is a narrow corridor a few miles wide, called the path of risk, and it includes most of southern Russia, across the north Pacific (relatively close to the coastlines of California and Mexico), then right between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, crossing northern Colombia and Venezuela, ending in the Atlantic, just before reaching Africa.[18][19] Using the computer simulation tool NEOSim, it was estimated that the hypothetical impact of Apophis in countries such as Colombia and Venezuela, which are in the path of risk, would have had more than 10 million casualties.[20] An impact several thousand miles off the West Coast of the US would produce a devastating tsunami.[21]

[edit] Amateur calculations

  • Nico Marquardt, a 13-year-old from Germany, was reported to have produced a collision estimate of 1 in 450 (100 times greater than NASA's calculation) in April 2008, by factoring in the possibility of Apophis running into one or more of the geosynchronous satellites orbiting Earth during its flyby on April 13, 2029. This estimate was allegedly then confirmed by ESA and NASA[22][23] but in an official statement,[6] NASA denied having contact with Marquardt. The release went on to explain that since the angle of Apophis's approach to the Earth's equator means the asteroid will not travel through the belt of existing equatorial geosynchronous satellites and the extremely small size of satellites relative to the size of their orbits means that there is currently no risk of collision; and the effect on Apophis' orbit of any such impact would be insignificant.[24]
  • On April 16, 2008, NASA News Release 08-103 reaffirmed that its estimation of a 1 in 45,000 chance of impact in 2036 remains valid.[6]

[edit] Potential space missions

In 2008, The Planetary Society, a California-based space advocacy group, organized a $50,000 competition to design an unmanned space probe that would 'shadow' Apophis for almost a year, taking measurements that would "determine whether it will impact Earth, thus helping governments decide whether to mount a deflection mission to alter its orbit." The society received 37 entries from 20 countries on 6 continents.

The commercial competition was won by a design called 'Foresight' created by SpaceWorks Engineering.[7] SpaceWorks proposes a simple orbiter with only two instruments and a radio beacon at a cost of ~140 million USD, launched aboard a Minotaur IV between 2012 and 2014, to arrive at Apophis five to ten months later. It would then rendezvous with, observe, and track the asteroid. Foresight would orbit the asteroid to gather data with a multi-spectral imager for one month. It would then leave orbit and fly in formation with Apophis around the Sun at a range of two kilometers (1.2 miles). The spacecraft would use laser ranging to the asteroid and radio tracking from Earth for ten months to accurately determine the asteroid's orbit and how it might change.

Pharos, the winning student entry, would be an orbiter with four science instruments (a multi-spectral imager, near-infrared spectrometer, laser rangefinder, and magnetometer) that would rendezvous with and track Apophis. Earth-based tracking of the spacecraft would then allow precise tracking of the asteroid. The Pharos spacecraft would also carry four instrumented probes that it would launch individually over the course of two weeks. Accelerometers and temperature sensors on the probes would measure the seismic effects of successive probe impacts, a creative way to explore the interior structure and dynamics of the asteroid.

Second place, for $10,000, went to a European team led by Deimos Space S.L. of Madrid, Spain, in cooperation with EADS Astrium, Friedrichshafen, Germany; University of Stuttgart, Germany; and Università di Pisa, Italy. Juan L. Cano was Principal Investigator.

Another European team took home $5,000 for third place. Their team lead was EADS Astrium Ltd, United Kingdom, in conjunction with EADS Astrium SAS, France; IASF-Roma, INAF, Rome, Italy; Open University, UK; Rheinisches Institut für Umweltforschung, Germany; Royal Observatory of Belgium; and Telespazio, Italy. The Principal Investigator was Paolo D'Arrigo.

Two teams tied for second place in the Student Category: Monash University, Clayton Campus, Australia, with Dilani Kahawala as Principal Investigator; and University of Michigan, with Jeremy Hollander as Principal Investigator. Each second place team won $2,000. A team from Hong Kong Polytechnic University and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, under the leadership of Peter Weiss, received an honorable mention and $1,000 for the most innovative student proposal.

In addition to the unmanned Planetary Society project, NASA's Project Constellation is researching a manned Orion Asteroid Mission, with 99942 Apophis being one of the potential destinations of the mission. The mission would use the Orion spacecraft to land astronauts on the surface of the asteroid. Such a mission would provide valuable testing for a later manned Orion Mars Mission.

Scenarios for Dealing with Apophis,[25] a paper presented by Donald B. Gennery at the 2007 Planetary Defense Conference held in Washington, DC, outlines a number of proposals for deflecting Apophis including gravitational tractor, kinetic impact, and nuclear bomb methods.

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b c d "JPL Small-Body Database Browser: 99942 Apophis (2004 MN4)". http://ssd.jpl.nasa.gov/sbdb.cgi?sstr=99942. Retrieved on 2008-02-02. 
  2. ^ a b "99942 Apophis (2004 MN4) Earth Impact Risk Summary". NASA. http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/risk/a99942.html. Retrieved on 2008-07-18. 
  3. ^ assuming radius of 0.135 km and mass of 2.1e10 kg yields an escape velocity of 0.14 m/s or 0.52 km/h.
  4. ^ a b c "99942 Apophis". The Near-Earth Asteroids Data Base at E.A.R.N. http://earn.dlr.de/nea/099942.htm. Retrieved on 2008-02-02. 
  5. ^ a b Don Yeomans, Steve Chesley and Paul Chodas (December 23, 2004). "Near-Earth Asteroid 2004 MN4 Reaches Highest Score To Date On Hazard Scale". NASA's Near Earth Object Program Office. http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news146.html. Retrieved on 2007-08-16. "Today's impact monitoring results indicate that the impact probability for April 13, 2029 has risen to about 1.6%, which for an object of this size corresponds to a rating of 4 on the ten-point Torino Scale." 
  6. ^ a b c Dwayne Brown (2008-04-16). "NASA Statement on Student Asteroid Calculations". NASA. http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2008/apr/HQ_08103_student_asteroid_calculations.html. Retrieved on 2008-04-28. 
  7. ^ a b Paul Rincon. "US team wins asteroid competition". http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7265608.stm. Retrieved on 2009-03-25. 
  8. ^ Bill Cooke (August 18, 2005). "Asteroid Apophis set for a makeover". Astronomy Magazine. http://www.astronomy.com/asy/default.aspx?c=a&id=3434.  (naming the asteroid and how Earth's gravity may change its trajectory in 2029)
  9. ^ The astronomical magnitude scale. Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
  10. ^ McGuire, Bill (2005). Global Catastrophes: A Very Short Introduction. US: Oxford University Press. p. 5. ISBN 0192804936. 
  11. ^ MPEC 2004-Y70 : 2004 MN4 Minor Planet Electronic Circular, issued 2004-12-27
  12. ^ Friday the 13th, 2029 (Science@NASA article)
  13. ^ "NEODyS : (99942) Apophis (Close Approaches)". NEODyS (Near Earth Objects — Dynamic Site). http://newton.dm.unipi.it/neodys/index.php?pc=1.1.8&n=99942. Retrieved on 2009-02-25. 
  14. ^ "Schweickart Proposes Study of Impact Risk from Apophis". NASA Ames Research Centre. http://nai.arc.nasa.gov/impact/news_detail.cfm?ID=161. 
  15. ^ "Scheduled Arecibo Radar Asteroid Observations". National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center. http://www.naic.edu/~pradar/sched.shtml. Retrieved on 2008-07-18. 
  16. ^ "Sandia supercomputers offer new explanation of Tunguska disaster". Sandia National Laboratories. December 17, 2007. http://www.sandia.gov/news/resources/releases/2007/asteroid.html. Retrieved on 2008-01-29. "The asteroid that caused the extensive damage was much smaller than we had thought,” says Sandia principal investigator Mark Boslough of the impact that occurred June 30, 1908." .
  17. ^ Russell Schweickart, et. al. "Threat Characterization: Trajectory dynamics (White Paper 39)" (PDF). Figure 4, pp. 9. B612 Foundation. http://www.b612foundation.org/papers/wpdynamics.pdf. Retrieved on 2008-02-22. 
  18. ^ Range of Possible Impact Points on April 13, 2036 in Scenarios for Dealing with Apophis, by Donald B. Gennery
  19. ^ Scenarios for Dealing with Apophis, author Donald B. Gennery, presented at the Planetary Defense Conference. Washington, DC. March 5-8, 2007
  20. ^ Nick J. Baileya (2006). "Near Earth Object impact simulation tool for supporting the NEO mitigation decision making process". Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/S1743921307003614. http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=998156. 
  21. ^ David Noland (December 2006). "The Threat is Out There". Popular Mechanics. http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/air_space/4201569.html. Retrieved on 2008-02-22. 
  22. ^ AFP: German schoolboy, 13, corrects NASA's asteroid figures: paper
  23. ^ Ich hab den Weltuntergang ausgerechnet! – Berlin - Bild.de
  24. ^ Jon Giorgini; Dr. Lance A. M. Benner, Dr. Steven J. Ostro, Michael C. Nolan, Michael W. Busch (April 16, 2008). "Predicting Apophis' Earth Encounters in 2029 and 2036". NASA/JPL Near-Earth Object Program. http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/apophis/. Retrieved on 2008-04-18. 
  25. ^ "Scenarios for Dealing with Apophis" (PDF). The Aerospace Corporation. http://www.aero.org/conferences/planetarydefense/2007papers/S3-4--Gennery-Paper.pdf. Retrieved on 2008-07-18. 

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