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The successes of the past year or so have put engineers on a strong footing for such missions: NASA's Mars InSight mission placed the first robotically deployed seismometer on another planet. The first interplanetary cubesats flew with that spacecraft as the MarCO mission.
Pieces of all those missions showed up in discussions about what scientists could send to Apophis. Several speakers discussed the possibilities offered by cubesat missions, including missions that paired twin spacecraft, as MarCO did. Scientists also advanced the idea of putting a seismometer on the space rock — one design would impale Apophis like a harpoon — to pick up tiny vibrations through the space rock that could help scientists understand the interior structure of Apophis and how it's affected by Earth's gravity. Also among the ideas is a mission that would create an artificial crater on Apophis, as Hayabusa2 just did at an asteroid called Ryugu , in order to see below the weathered surface of the asteroid.
Some of those ideas may be too risky to be worthwhile, however, since scientists would need to be positive the manhandling wouldn't risk meddling in Apophis' current, safe trajectory.
And that's the careful balance that asteroid scientists and planetary defense experts will need to achieve over the course of the next decade — making the most of the scientific and outreach opportunities Apophis' close flyby offers without causing panic , or still worse, accidentally creating a truly dangerous situation where there wasn't one before. Email Meghan Bartels at mbartels space.
Follow us on Twitter Spacedotcom and on Facebook. Have a news tip, correction or comment? No one in recorded history has ever seen an asteroid in space so bright.
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A Crab Walks Through Time. March 14, Hubble Yields New Discoveries at the January 11, New Hubble Gallery Features Objects October 23, May 11, Ask a Question. The asteroid called Apophis will cruise harmlessly by Earth, about 31, km above the surface. That's within the distance that some of our spacecraft that orbit Earth.
This week at the Planetary Defense Conference in College Park, Maryland, scientists are gathering to discuss observation plans and science opportunities for the celestial event still a decade away. During a session on April 30, scientists will discuss everything from how to observe the event to hypothetical missions we could send out to the asteroid.
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With radar observations, we might be able to see surface details that are only a few meters in size," Marina Brozovic said. It's rare for an asteroid of this size to pass by the Earth so close. Although scientists have spotted small asteroids, on the order of metres, flying by Earth at a similar distance, asteroids the size of Apophis are far fewer in number and so do not pass this close to Earth as often.
The asteroid, looking like a moving star-like point of light, will first become visible to the naked eye in the night sky over the southern hemisphere, flying above Earth from the east coast to the west coast of Australia. It will then cross the Indian Ocean, and by the afternoon in the eastern US it will have crossed the equator, still moving west, above Africa.
At closest approach, Apophis will be over the Atlantic Ocean and it will move so fast that it will cross the Atlantic in just an hour.
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The observations caused quite a stir - initial orbital calculations revealed that the asteroid had a 2.