Saturday, August 14, 2010
Costa Rica better start prepping for Friday the 13th……2029 that is!
“Apophis” was the name of the ancient Egyptian god of darkness and destruction. Therefore, astronomers could not have chosen a more appropriate moniker to assign to a 25 million ton asteroid that is expected to slice across the orbit of the moon, possibly impacting Earth at more than 28,000 miles per hour on April, Friday the 13th, 2029.
Scientists are 99.7% certain that Apophis, a huge pockmarked rock that carries the energy of 65,000 Hiroshima bombs, and measures more than 1000 feet accross, will pass the Earth at a distance of only 18,800 to 20,800 miles in the year 2029, not actually impacting Earth at that time. To put that distance into perspective though, that is actually shorter than a round-trip flight from Melbourne, Australia, to New York City. Either way, just after dusk on April 13th of 2029, people in Europe, Africa, and parts of Asia will be able to see what looks like a star slowly making its way westward through the sky. Apophis will be the first asteroid in human history to be clearly visible to the naked eye.
The asteroid will be packing enough power to wipe out a small country or churn up a devestating 800-ft. high tsunami. Previous projections showed the asteroid’s trajectory to pass somewhere along a 30-mile-wide path stretching from Russia across the Pacific Ocean into Central America and then across the Atlantic. Although San Jose, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Venezuela would all have been potential targets for total destruction, scientists believe the most likely target would have been several thousand miles off the West Coast of the United States, where the impact would create a 5-mile wide crater in the ocean floor. The impact would trigger tsunamis that would pound the coast of California with 50-foot waves, literally wiping out everything in its path.
Updated projections now have scientists believing that if Apophis passes the Earth at a distance of exactly 18,893 miles in 2029, it will pass through a "gravitational keyhole," where the Earth’s gravity could pull Apophis off track just enough to cause it to enter an orbit that is seven-sixths as long as the Earth’s orbit. If that happens, then exactly seven years later in the year 2036, as Apophis comes back around, the planet would be in an even more precarious path of this lethal asteroid. Fortunately, current tracking estimates put the odds of that happening at about 45,000 to 1, though one should keep in mind that that is considerably less than the chance of someone being in a plane crash!
Former astronaut Rusty Schweickart, now 71, who served on the Apollo 9 mission in 1969, feels that even a tiny risk cannot be ignored. Through his B612 Foundation, which he co-founded in 2001, Schweickart has been urging NASA to start now making preparations to do something about the asteroid. "We need to act," he said. "If we blow this, it’ll be criminal."
Despite Hollywood’s imaginative cinematic escapades, current technology does not provide any way for Apophis to be deflected to miss the Earth in either 2029 or 2036. For that reason, in 2005, Schweickart began urging NASA administrator Michael Griffin to start planning a mission to land a radio transponder on Apophis, in an effort to track the asteroid’s path to confirm that it will not hit the gravitational keyhole. If that data shows that the path will bring it into the keyhole, there would still be time to do something about it and launch a deflection mission. Using current technology, we could attempt to nudge it slightly off course by hitting it with a simple 1-ton "kinetic energy impactor" spacecraft. An alternative solution would be to use a "gravity tractor" spacecraft to hover above the asteroid and gently pull it slightly off course using its own gravity. Both of those corrective methods and their chances of success would be highly speculative.
For now, NASA has decided to wait and see what’s going to happen. According to an analysis by Steven Chesley of the Near Earth Object program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA, there is no cause for alarm yet. Apophis will be swinging by the Earth in 2013, when it will be in perfect position to be tracked by the 1000-ft. diameter radio telescope in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. The data obtained during that pass could rule out the asteroid hitting the keyhole in 2029. But if it isn’t able to rule out the possibility, there will still be enough time to launch a deflection mission. Schweickart estimates that such a mission could take as long as 12 years to complete. But for now, most scientists are content to wait until we get a better idea of exactly what the risks are.
"There’s no rush right now," says Chesley. "But if it’s still serious by 2014, we need to start designing real missions."
Will Costa Rica homes and businesses be ready for this phoenomenon? Will the World be ready for Apophis? Are you ready? Do you believe this could truly happen? I’d love to hear your feedback!
Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and Hotel Makanda by the Sea.
Edited from an original article written by:
Linda Orlando of Buzzle Staff and Agencies
Originally Published: 1/8/2007