A decade from now, on April 15, 2029, an asteroid will swing past the Earth, just barely missing everything. The asteroid—nicknamed Apophis—will be as close as some of our satellites and only a few thousand miles away from the Earth’s atmosphere itself. That would make it one of the closest near-miss asteroids in history, and an incredible chance for scientists to learn as much as they can about it.
Plenty of asteroids narrowly miss the Earth all the time, but they usually never get much closer than the moon. Apophis is getting much closer—and Apophis is huge. It’s over 1,000 feet across, meaning it will be big enough to see with the naked eye when it flies past us. Most asteroids that nearly hit us are only a few dozen feet across.
Due in part to its large size, we’re able to see Apophis coming over a decade in advance. That gives scientists plenty of time to prepare. There’s a long list of scientific experiments we could do and a decade to decide which ones we want to pursue.
The reason this is such a great opportunity is because Apophis will be incredibly close to us, at least for a short period. The further away a spacecraft has to travel, the more fuel it needs and the less room we have to fit scientific equipment. With Apophis essentially in our backyard, we could send a huge satellite packed full of important instruments.
We could learn a great deal about what asteroids like Apophis are made of. We could learn about what our solar system looked like billions of years ago. We could learn about the history of our own planet. We could learn all kinds of things that we could only begin to guess at—and we have a whole decade to prepare.
Originally published on Popular Mechanics