Asteroid Apophis to pass near Earth on Wednesday

Nostalgic for last year's Doomsday worries? You may enjoy ponderingan asteroid, named Apophis, passing overhead Wednesday. It also aims forclose encounters with Earth in 2029 and 2036.

The asteroid, some 886 feet across, will pass within 9 million miles of Earth on Wednesday, its closest approach this year.The asteroid had attracted a great deal of interest in 2004, when itwas discovered, after some estimates suggested it had a chance ofhitting Earth in 2036. That possibility was later dismissed after betterestimates of its orbit arrived.

Because a tiny chance stillexists of the asteroid hitting Earth in 2036, "scientific interest inApophis is acute, and it's very important to learn as much as we canabout this object when it gets close enough for physical observations,"says a recent statementfrom NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. Radarobservations of the asteroid, scheduled for February, should refineorbital track analyses of the asteroid's impact chances.

If itever hit Earth, the asteroid would deliver an impact blast on land of141 megatons, almost three times stronger than the biggest H-bomb evertested, according to Purdue University's impact calculator.

"Dueto the proximity of its orbit to Earth, Apophis is being considered as apotential target for both robotic and crewed spacecraft missions," theJPL statement notes.

Butinstead of any landing this year, the Wednesday night passage will betoo dim for even backyard telescopes, says Slooh Space Camera's PatrickPaolucci, in a statement. Slooh's online cameras will make views of the asteroid available in a webcast on Wednesday night.


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