Apophis, the ‘God of Chaos’ asteroid is speeding up — increasing the likelihood of it hitting Earth in 2068

Apophis, the ‘God of Chaos’ asteroid is speeding up — increasing the likelihood of it hitting Earth in 2068
Representative image of asteroid heading towards EarthNeedpix
  • New observations have found that the Apophis or ‘God of Chaos’ asteroid, which is the size of three football fields, is speeding up due to the Yarkovsky effect.
  • This is when the asteroid heats up in a non-uniform way, leading to the release of heat exerting a thrust that can alter the asteroid’s direction or speed it up.
  • The discovery of the Yarkovsky effect means that there’s still a possibility that the Apophis asteroid may hit Earth in 2068.
The Apophis asteroid — named after the God of Chaos — is getting pushed around by sunlight and getting faster as it heads towards Earth. According to the researchers at the University of Hawaiʻi Institute for Astronomy ( IfA), it is under the influence of the Yarkovsky effect.

Apophis, the ‘God of Chaos’ asteroid is speeding up — increasing the likelihood of it hitting Earth in 2068
Image of Asteroid Apophis when it was first discovered on 14 June 2004UH/IA

This is when the asteroid speeds up because its thermal radiation is no longer uniform. Simply put, some parts of the asteroid are heating up faster than other parts.

Before the detection of this effect, Apophis — which is the size of three football fields — was likely to fly past Earth in 2068. However, the impact of the Yarkovsky acceleration means that the there is still a possibility that the massive asteroid may crash into the planet when it rolls around in another 50 years.
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The potential impact would be the equivalent of 880 million tons of trinitrotoluene (TNT) exploding simultaneously. This would make it 65,000 times more destructive than the Hiroshima nuclear disaster.

What is the Yarkovsky effect?
The Yarkovsky effect makes it difficult to make long term predictions about how an asteroid will move over long periods.

Apophis, the ‘God of Chaos’ asteroid is speeding up — increasing the likelihood of it hitting Earth in 2068
Diagram explaining the Yarkovsky effectNRAO

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It happens where sunlight heats up the dayside of the asteroid, and after the asteroid turns, the night side releases the heat. That release can exert a small thrust, which can result in a change of direction. It can also accelerate or decelerate the asteroids current speed.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) most recent endeavour to collect a sample from Asteroid Bennu is one of the ongoing initiatives to understand the influence of the Yarkovsky effect.

The Apophis asteroid could hit Earth
"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," said Dave Tholen, co-author of the paper presented at the 2020 virtual meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society.

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It’s not uncommon for small asteroids between the size of 5 to 10 meters to pass by Earth, but asteroids the size of Apophis are rare. Not only are they fewer in number, but don’t normally come this close to Earth.

Before 2068 rolls around, Apophis is scheduled to visit Earth even sooner on April 13, 2029. The massive 340-meter asteroid will be visible streaking across Earth’s skies without the aid of a telescope or binoculars.

Apophis, the ‘God of Chaos’ asteroid is speeding up — increasing the likelihood of it hitting Earth in 2068
NASA animation shows the distance between the Apophis asteroid and Earth at the time of the asteroid's closest approach. The blue dots are the many man-made satellites that orbit our planet, and the pink represents the International Space Station.<br>NASA/JPL-Caltech


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According to NASA, even this close encounter may have an impact on Apophis. Since it will only be 30,000 kilometers from the planet — Earth’s gravitational field may impact the way the asteroid spins or result in a change on its surface.

Ufologist Michael Horn claims if Apophis were, in fact, to crash into Earth, the impact point would be somewhere over Europe.

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