Asteroid incoming! A cosmic close shave

Asteroid Apophis will pass over earth at midnight.

Woodcut by Jiri Daschitzsky of the Great Comet in 1577 (Wiki Commons)
Woodcut by Jiri Daschitzsky of the Great Comet in 1577 (Wiki Commons)

A 300 metre wide asteroid with the potential to strike earth in 2036 will fly overhead this evening.

Apophis, aptly named after an evil Egyptian mythological demon of destruction, will today come within 14.4 million kilometres (nine million miles) of our planet.

In 2029 it is expected to return to earth, shaving past at 30,000 km. That is less than one-tenth the distance of the moon and inside the orbit of some communication satellites.

When the asteroid was discovered in 2004, scientists calculated that there was a one in 45 chance that it would strike earth in 2029. Improved predictions later lifted the threat.

Scientists say there is still a remote chance it may collide with earth in 2036.

According to NASA, if Apophis were to strike earth it would generate a blast around 100,000 times more powerful than the nuclear strike over Hiroshima in 1945.

Most asteroids are found in the belt between Mars and Jupiter. Apophis, however, belongs to the Aten family, which are usually found between earth and the sun.

Space enthusiasts will be able to view Apophis’ approach online via Slooch Space Camera. The images will be provided by a robotic telescope located in the Canary Islands beginning at midnight GMT.

Employing a battery of optical, radio and infrared telescopes, scientists hope to use today’s encounter to gauge the asteroid’s threat. Both the asteroid’s mass and the way it is spinning are vital to make precise calculations about the Apophis’ trajectory.

In October the Russian space agency announced plans to land tracking beacons on the asteroid in 2020.