NASA spacecraft will visit Apophis, the most dangerous asteroid for Earth

The OSIRIS-REx  (which will change its name in this new mission) will travel to the asteroid  to find out about its composition and confirm if it really is dangerous for the planet.

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft , which a couple of months ago managed to collect samples from the asteroid  Bennu, has been assigned a new mission: to approach the dangerous Apophis .

The ship, which will now change its name to OSIRIS-APEX, will have to leave the samples on the planet before heading to this new asteroid, which is a unique star of interest to science.

Apophis, the god of Chaos

When the asteroid Apophis was discovered in 2004, it appeared to be heading towards Earth with a risk of impact in 2029 with potentially catastrophic results.  This 340-meter-wide rock is much smaller than the one that wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago, but it’s big enough to destroy a large city.

So it was a great relief when new observations of Apophis ‘s orbit allowed astronomers to calculate that on its encounter with us in 2029 it will pass within 30,000 kilometers, a tenth of the distance to the Moon. This means that there is no risk of it hitting or causing any damage to the planet, even though the distance is one of the smallest in recent times. In said year, people in Europe and parts of Africa can see it with the naked eye as it flies by.

The spacecraft will slowly orbit the Sun for a few years before rendezvousing with Apophis on April 21, 2029, just a week after the asteroid passes close to Earth, and will study it for 18 months.

The probe will rendezvous with Apophis and go into orbit around the asteroid. It won’t retrieve a sample like it did with Bennu, but it will get very close, almost touching it, then fire thrusters to lift material from the surface and reveal what lies below. It will also measure how much the asteroid ‘s orbit was altered by Earth’s gravity to determine how close it might come back to us in the future.

The longer mission is part of an overall NASA initiative to extend eight planetary exploration missions, including the two Mars rovers Curiosity and Perseverance , the Mars Insight lander, orbiters around Mars and the moon, and the New Horizons program , which flew past Pluto in 2015 and is now exploring the Kuiper belt at the edge of our solar system.