More than a hundred tons of space debris and meteors fall to the earth every day. Most of it is burned up in the atmosphere or becomes what is referred to as a ” shooting star “.
Apophis, also known as the “Doomsday Asteroid” and named after the Egyptian Serpent God of Destruction, is 325 meters in diameter, which is about 1,060 feet or more than twice the size of two football fields and weighs 20 million tons. It passes by the earth at a safe distance every seven years. The last time that it passed, the distance was 9 million miles away. However, It is due to come in close proximity to the planet on Friday the 13th in 2029.
When it was first discovered by physicists in 2004, Apophis was believed to have only a 2% chance of impact. The is the latest risk assessment by NASA’s Near Earth Object Program says that the asteroid will pass by at an altitude of 31,900 kilometers or about 19,000 miles, which is close enough so that the earth’s gravity could change its trajectory, causing it to connect with the planet. Of course, this would require that Apophis would pass the earth at a precise altitude, also known as a keyhole. Unfortunately, scientists have already located over a dozen keyholes that would fall within the range of probabilities.
Even if the asteroid doesn’t change trajectory, it is set to pass by the earth again on April 13, 2036 at a closer distance and the possibility of impact at that time is 1 in 250,000. Some people would call that a “slight” chance, but, it’s too close for comfort for most.
If Apophis struck the planet, it would let loose with a blast that equals a billion tons of TNT or the equivalent of 65,000 nuclear bombs. It would not be an Extinction Level Event, but would result in the deaths of millions, if not billions of people and would cause havoc to the earth’s climate for many years.
The Barringer Crater in Arizona was created about 50,000 years ago by a rock that weighed a few times more than an aircraft carrier, or around 300,000 tons. When it struck, the equivalent of 20 megatons of TNT was released and the blast left a crater that is 4,000 wide. Compare that to Apophis. Barringer Crater = 300,000 tons. Apophis = 20 MILLION tons (or about 67 times larger.)
Remember also that a hit in the ocean will cause much more damage than if it struck land. First of all, it will definitely cause a tsunami much bigger than any in recorded history and when it hits the ocean, it would cause the ocean water to superheat. This would cause scalding vapor and debris particles to shoot up into the atmosphere which would essentially blanket the entire and eventually lead to the deaths of humans , animals and plant-life that survived the original blast.
Do you want more details? Let’s just suppose that Apophis was made entirely of iron and travelling at around 30,000 miles per hour. The impact would cause the earth to slightly tilt on it’s axis and if it hit on land instead of in water, then ejecta, meaning debris, would be hurled into the air such as what you would see after the detonation of a nuclear bomb. Also, as in a nuclear bomb, anything close to ground zero would be destroyed and nothing would survive, including buildings. An earthquake equaling or exceeding 11.8, which is larger than any ever experienced by humans, would follow.
This may explain the urgency of President Obama’s increase in budgeting for NASA to develop a system for harnessing a small asteroid and bringing it closer for scientists to study. This is something that we need to prepare for and funding needs to be increased and not become another victim of partisan budget cuts. This is an issue of national – and global – security.