NASA’s OSIRIS-APEX spacecraft has embarked on a five-year journey to rendezvous with the near-Earth asteroid Apophis in 2029. Originally launched in 2016 as OSIRIS-REx, the spacecraft will play a crucial role in providing a detailed examination of the asteroid’s close encounter with Earth.
Directed by scientists from the University of Arizona, the mission aims to yield valuable insights into planetary formation and bolster efforts to build a robust defense system against asteroid collisions. Initially, Apophis appeared to pose a potential impact threat to Earth in 2029. However, further observations have ruled out any significant risk for at least another century.
Nevertheless, Apophis is set to pass within 20,000 miles of Earth in 2029, which is closer than the moon’s distance, presenting a unique opportunity for study. The spacecraft, which has now been renamed OSIRIS-APEX, will closely observe Apophis during its Earth flyby and then remain near the asteroid for 18 months to gather vital information about its surface and behavior.
Scientists hope to collect data on Apophis’ composition, density, and behavior to enhance asteroid-deflection strategies and mitigate potential impact threats. While Apophis may not be large enough to pose an existential threat, an impact could still cause significant damage, such as devastating a major city or region.
This mission underscores the importance of understanding and monitoring near-Earth asteroids to safeguard against future potential impacts. By studying Apophis, scientists aim to improve our ability to protect our planet and its inhabitants from the potential dangers lurking in outer space. The OSIRIS-APEX spacecraft’s journey represents a significant step forward in our quest for a comprehensive understanding of these celestial objects and our efforts to defend against future threats.