Astronomers shed light on 'God of Chaos' asteroid Apophis ahead of Earth flyby in 2029

SCIENTISTS have shed new light on a near-Earth asteroid nicknamed the "God of Chaos".

The space rock Apophis is as big as the Empire State Building and is expected to make a close pass of Earth in 2029.


Apophis was discovered in 2004 and was for a while believed to be on a collision course with our planet.

In light of this, its name refers to an Egyptian "demon serpent who personified evil and chaos", according to Nasa.

An analysis of the object's orbit last year revealed, however, that Earth is safe from impact for at least the next century.

During its next flyby in eight years' time, scientists hope to use radio observations to refine the estimate of Apophis' orbit around the Sun.

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The work should enable them to confidently rule out potential future impacts over the next few centuries.

Ahead of the big event, an international team of researchers analysed images of the object to get a better idea of its shape and spin.

In a paper published online on Thursday, the team described using 36 ground-based telescopes and the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite to make observations during a flyby that spanned 2020 and 2021.

Estimations of its shape and speed of rotation were made by measuring the light reflected off of the asteroid.

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Their calculations show that Apophis rotates roughly once every 264 hours.

It's thought that the asteroid has a convex shape and is tumbling through space, making its spin erratic.

Researchers said that the findings could be used to direct future missions to the asteroid.

South Korea, for instance, is planning to send a spacecraft to the object when it makes its close approach in 2029.

Apophis has been the object of astronomers' attention for nearly two decades.

According to Nasa, the rock weighs an astonishing 67million tons and is travelling at over 3.5 miles per second.

It's being tracked by the agency's automated "Sentry" warning system, which predicts the object's next flyby will occur in six years' time.

A further nine close passes are expected between that date and April, 2103.

While the chances of impact are small, the rock will come close enough that Nasa is keeping a watchful eye on it for the foreseeable future.

Just a slight change to its trajectory could send it hurtling into our planet, spelling doom for anyone near the impact zone.

Based on its size and speed, Nasa calculates the force of impact would be equivalent to 1,200,000 kilotons of kinetic energy.

For comparison, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 exploded with the force of 15 kilotons of TNT.

It's thought that an Apophis strike would decimate an area of thousands of square miles, leaving behind a 3.2-mile-wide crater.

Nasa spots and tracks asteroids and comets passing close to Earth using both ground and space-based telescopes.

The Near-Earth Object Observations Program, also known as "Spaceguard," discovers these objects and plots their orbits to determine if they pose a threat to our planet.

Apophis, which is named after the Ancient Egyptian God of Chaos, put space scientists on high alert following its discovery in 2004.

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They calculated that the 1,200ft asteroid had a nearly 1-in-30 chance of hitting Earth in 2029, followed by a less likely chance of impact in 2036.

Both were later ruled out but Nasa has closely tracked the rock's trajectory ever since.

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