Researchers from the University of Hawaii have warned that an asteroid dubbed the ‘god of Chaos’ could smash into Earth in 2068
The idea of an enormous asteroid colliding with Earth may sound like a plot from a science fiction blockbuster, but it could become a reality in just 48 years.
Researchers from the University of Hawaii have warned that an asteroid dubbed the ‘God of Chaos’ could smash into Earth in 2068.
The asteroid, officially called Apophis, is estimated to measure 340 metres in diameter. That means the space rock could be even bigger than the Eiffel Tower!
In the study, the researchers observed Apophis speeding up due to ‘non-uniform thermal radiation’.
All asteroids radiate energy from sunlight as heat, in order to maintain a constant temperature. In the process, this slightly alters the orbit of the asteroid.
And the way in which Apophis is doing this indicates that it could speed up enough to collide with Earth in 2068.
However, that won’t be the first time the asteroid comes dangerously close to our planet.
On April 13 2029, Apophis will be so close to Earth that it will be visible with the naked eye.
Dave Tholen, who led the study, said: “We have known for some time that an impact with Earth is not possible during the 2029 close approach.
“The new observations we obtained with the Subaru telescope earlier this year were good enough to reveal the Yarkovsky acceleration of Apophis, and they show that the asteroid is drifting away from a purely gravitational orbit by about 170 meters per year, which is enough to keep the 2068 impact scenario in play.”
During the passing in 2029, NASA will closely monitor Apophis.
Marina Brozović, a radar scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said: “The Apophis close approach in 2029 will be an incredible opportunity for science.
“We’ll observe the asteroid with both optical and radar telescopes. With radar observations, we might be able to see surface details that are only a few meters in size.”
If Apophis is found to be on a collision course for Earth in 2068, NASA has several tactics up its sleeve to prevent a collision.
It explained: “One of the techniques suggested for deflecting an asteroid includes nuclear fusion weapons set off above the surface to slightly change the asteroid’s velocity without fracturing it.
“High speed neutrons from the explosion would irradiate a shell of material on the surface of the asteroid facing the explosion. The material in this surface shell would then expand and blow off, thus producing a recoil upon the asteroid itself.
“A very modest velocity change in the asteroid’s motion (only a few millimeters per second), acting over several years, can cause the asteroid to miss the Earth entirely. However, the trick is to gently nudge the asteroid out of harm’s way and not to blow it up.
“This latter option, though popular in the movies, only creates a bigger problem when all the pieces encounter the Earth.
“Another option that has been discussed includes the establishment of large solar sails on a small threatening object so that the pressure of sunlight could eventually redirect the object away from its predicted Earth collision.”