With ice having successfully delivered the first asteroid sample collected in space, the OSIRIS-REx mission, now renamed OSIRIS-APEX, is embarking on a new journey – this time to study an asteroid that will make a close approach to Earth in just a few years , CNN reported.
Apophis, a space rock about 366 meters in diameter, will come within 20,000 miles (32,187 km) of Earth in about 5 1/2 years, which is closer than the satellites that orbit our planet and 10 times closer. near from the moon. The asteroid is named after the Egyptian god of chaos and darkness and is believed to be peanut-shaped.
One hour after Apophis approaches Earth on April 13, 2029, OSIRIS-APEX — which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security-APophis Explorer — will use Earth’s gravity to enter orbit around the asteroid and to study it closely for 18 months.
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This is an expansive new chapter for a spaceship that has already come a long way. As OSIRIS-REx, it spent seven years orbiting the near-Earth asteroid Bennu, which included surveying, landing and collecting a sample of the space rock. The sample is now in its new home at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, where analysis of rocks and soil collected from the near-Earth asteroid Bennu may reveal insights into the origins of our Solar System and the composition of the asteroids that may collide with Earth in the future.
The spacecraft will not be able to collect a sample from Apophis because the sample collection head was included in the capsule with the Bennu sample delivered to Earth. But OSIRIS-APEX will use its gas engines in an attempt to eject dust and small rocks both on and below the surface of Apophis to study them about 15 months after orbiting the asteroid.
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What Apophis can reveal
Apophis is of interest because it is an S-type, or stony, asteroid, unlike Bennu, which is a C-type, or carbonaceous, asteroid.
C-type asteroids are made of clay and silicate rocks, while S-type asteroids are composed of silicate materials and nickel-iron.
The spacecraft’s ability to closely orbit the asteroid can reveal the strength of the rocky asteroid’s surface and how much weathering the asteroid has endured in the space environment.
But Earth defense planning is another key motivation for the extended mission. Stony asteroids are part of the most common class of potentially hazardous asteroids that pose a threat to our planet. Understanding their composition and other details that can only be obtained from a close orbit can help agencies like NASA and its partners determine how best to deflect such asteroids if they are predicted to be on course for collision with Earth.
View #OSIRUS_KING on its approach to Earth tonight. It will be dropping off its package of soil samples from #asteriod #Deciding tomorrow morning at 10:55 EDT in the Utah desert before heading out for a new asteroid mission.https://t.co/BNeHTxTsHL
— Speaker MichaelJ (@amoelcordero) September 24, 2023
“Apophis is one of the most famous asteroids,” said Dani Della Giustina, principal investigator of OSIRIS-APEX. “When it was first discovered in 2004, there were fears that it would collide with Earth in 2029 during its close approach. This risk has been dismissed after subsequent observations, but it will be the closest asteroid with one a size it has approached in the last 50 years or so since asteroids have been closely monitored, or in the next 100 years of the asteroids we’ve discovered so far.
“During the 2029 rendezvous, it will approach one-tenth the distance between the Earth and the Moon,” added Della Guistina, associate professor of planetary sciences at the University of Arizona. “People in Europe and Africa will be able to see it with the naked eye, that’s how close it will come.”
Observations of Apophis’ orbit around the Sun in 2021 rule out the risk of the space rock colliding with Earth in 2068, according to NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies.
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The center maintains a list of risks, such as watching for asteroids with orbits that bring them close to Earth — close enough to raise concerns about a potential collision. Scientists at the center use radars and telescopes to study near-Earth objects and understand the dangers they may pose to the planet.
Tracking Apophis during and after its approach to Earth will allow scientists to see if there are any changes in its orbit that could affect the likelihood of it colliding with Earth in the future, as well as any changes in surface or the asteroid’s rotation rate.
Della Guistina has a long history with the spacecraft, and currently serves as deputy principal investigator for the Bennu sample analysis.