After Bennu asteroid, NASA sends OSIRIS-REx on a mission to study ‘God of Chaos’ asteroid Apophis

NASA has discovered thousands of asteroids to date using its advanced ground and space-based telescopes. The list of asteroids includes a potentially life-threatening asteroid called Bennu which has a 1/2700 chance of impacting Earth between 2175 and 2195. With such possibility looming, the US space agency carried out a study of the asteroid by landing a spacecraft on it and collecting dust and rock samples, which recently returned to Earth. Now, NASA has repurposed the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to study another potentially life-threatening asteroid, one which could come very close to Earth within this decade! Know all about the NASA God of Chaos mission to study asteroid Apophis.

NASA God of Chaos mission

After depositing the samples collected from the Bennu asteroid back to Earth, NASA has repurposed the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft to study the close approach of asteroid Apophis during its close approach in 2029. While it will not collect a sample from this asteroid, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will dip within 16 feet of the asteroid’s surface, firing its thrusters downward.

According to NASA, this manoeuvre will stir up surface rocks and dust to give scientists a peek at the material that lies below. 

Dani Mendoza DellaGiustina, principal investigator for OSIRIS-APEX, said, “The close approach is a great natural experiment. We know that tidal forces and the accumulation of rubble pile material are foundational processes that could play a role in planet formation. They could inform how we got from debris in the early solar system to full-blown planets”.

What is asteroid Apophis?

This asteroid is named 99942 Apophis and has been given the designation Asteroid 2004 MN4 by NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies. It is also being called the “God of Chaos” asteroid. The asteroid is named after Apophis, the demon serpent who personified evil and chaos in ancient Egyptian mythology.

According to NASA, the Asteroid 99942 Apophis asteroid will make an extremely close trip to Earth on April 13, 2029. On that day, this space rock will come as close as 38000 kilometers of Earth’s surface. This is closer than many geostationary satellites orbiting the planet. Astonishingly, it will be visible to observers on the ground in the Eastern Hemisphere without the aid of a telescope or binoculars! It will do so travelling at an approximate speed of 26712 kilometers per hour, which is nearly as fast as an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM).

The asteroid’s risk of potential impact in 2029 was ruled out by scientists, though 2036 and 2068 impacts remained a worry. The asteroid’s 2021 trip to Earth proved useful for scientists as they used powerful radar observations to extensively study the asteroid’s orbit and trajectory.

According to Davide Farnocchia of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies, “A 2068 impact is not in the realm of possibility anymore, and our calculations don’t show any impact risk for at least the next 100 years.” Therefore, it has been declared that Asteroid 99942 Apophis is not expected to impact Earth’s surface for at least a century.

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