God of Chaos Asteroid to Pass Earth This Week Before 2029's Close Approach

The asteroid Apophis is due to make a close approach to Earth this week, and scientists are preparing to observe the flyby.

The space rock, thought to be between 310 and 680 meters (1,017 ft to 2,230 ft) in diameter, is going to coast past the Earth at 8:15 p.m. ET on March 5. It will pass at a distance of around 10,225,000 miles—equivalent to around 43 times the distance from the Earth to the moon. The distance may seem large, but it is small in astronomical terms.

Apophis is deemed potentially hazardous because of its size and occasional proximity to our planet.

One group of scientists is attempting to use this week's flyby as practice for a potential collision with Earth in the future.

Vishnu Reddy, a planetary defense expert at the University of Arizona, is helping to coordinate the scientists via the International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN).

The group has been treating Apophis as though it were a new object they only recently discovered, and have been meeting remotely to discuss their calculations.

Reddy told Space.com: "The goal is to get new observations as if we don't know anything about this object and try and see where in the process we need to improve efficiency and also identify the human factor."

Meanwhile the European Virtual Telescope Project has organized a live online feed that starts on March 6 at 00:00 UTC. It will allow people to watch the flyby as it happens.

Scientists are particularly interested in Apophis because of another close pass it will make to the Earth in April 2029. That time, it will be a mere 19,800 miles away from the Earth when it zooms past—much closer than the moon, which is around 238,855 miles away.

Predictions such as this are what led scientists to give Apophis its name, after the Egyptian deity who personified chaos.

As of February 22 2021, astronomers had identified just over 25,000 Near-Earth Asteroids. Approximately 1,000 of them are thought to be 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) in size or more.

Asteroid size is important because it helps scientists predict how much damage the space rock would cause were it to collide with our planet.

The asteroid which exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk in February, 2013 was only around 17 meters in diameter, according to Peter Brown, a physics professor at Western University in Ontario, yet it released enough energy to shatter windows over 200 square miles and injured more than 1,600 people. It was also traveling at over eleven miles a second.

Asteroid in space
A stock photo shows an asteroid in empty space. Apophis is thought to be up to 2,230 feet in diameter. iStackphotons/iStock