The 1,000-foot-wide Apophis asteroid (yeah, it’s named after the Egyptian god of death) is set to buzz the Earth on Wednesday (1/9/13) passing a mere 9 million miles above Earth, but the chances of a fateful impact are next to nil. But wait, keep holding your breath because there’s a better chance in 2029 when it passes only 18,000 miles from the Earth’s surface (at least that’s astronomer’s guess at this point – their calculations changed as late as last week when when they admitted that they had miscalculated the asteroid’s mass by 75%). Still, Apophis remains on the International Astronomical Union’s list of Potentially Hazardous Asteroids. According to Discovery Magazine:
“Apophis’s orbit usually places the asteroid between the Earth and the sun, so it is often lost in the glare of the sun and is therefore hard to see with telescopes. But on Wednesday, January 9 the asteroid will cross outside Earth’s orbit and offer astronomers a quick and clearer glimpse of the flying chunk of rock. Astronomers are hoping to figure out the asteroid’s mass and spin direction, factors which impact its orbit. They also want to know if the gravitational pull from a close call with Earth in 2029 could change the asteroid’s orbit and cause a bigger issue when it comes back around a few years later.”
Russia plans to deploy a radio-beacon tracker on the asteroid in 2020 via a landing module. The tracker will allow them to better calculate Apophis’ movement and trajectory.