Home Sciences A planetary defense system “rediscovers” the feared asteroid Apophis

A planetary defense system “rediscovers” the feared asteroid Apophis


A hundred scientists from 18 countries carried out a “simulation” of what would be a scenario of a possible impact on Earth of a dangerous asteroid. In this framework, they re-evaluated the asteroid Apophis, which has not presented real risks for more than 100 years, and defined its characteristics. The exercise was successful, both in the detection of the threat and in the measurements and evaluation of the consequences of a hypothetical impact.

A system designed to test whether planetary defense mechanisms could detect a potentially dangerous near-Earth asteroid on its approach to our planet successfully “rediscovered” the asteroid 99942 Apophisknown as the “asteroid of the apocalypse”. Although it will pass relatively close to Earth in 2029, Apophis does not pose a real impact threat for 100 years or more.

a successful test

According to the researchers, the entire response chain of planetary defense, from the initial detection to the determination of the orbit, the measurement of the physical characteristics of the asteroid and it was even possible to determine if and where it could hit the Earth, in the event of a future variation in its behavior. The work was developed by more than 100 specialists from 18 countries, including scientists from NASA and the NEOWISE mission, aimed at observing near-Earth objects using infrared technology.

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According to a press release, the infrared data collected from space greatly benefited the results of this exercise. NEOWISE was able to confirm the “rediscovery” of Apophis while quickly gathering valuable information that could be used in future planetary defense assessments, such as its size, shape, and even clues about its composition and surface properties. The conclusions of the exercise were dumped in two new studies recently published in The Planetary Science Journal.

The importance of planetary defense

The large asteroids potentially dangerous (PHA) are capable of causing a global catastrophe in the event of a planetary collision. Therefore, the rapid evaluation of the physical characteristics of an object of this type is crucial to determine its scale of potential risk.

As the scientists explained, the planetary defense exercise was carried out during the approach to Earth of the asteroid Apophis between December 2020 and March 2021. However, the research groups involved have been conducting observation campaigns since 2017, to test the operational readiness of global planetary defense capabilities.

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The goal of this campaign was to recover, track, and characterize Apophis as a potential impactor to exercise the planetary defense system, including observations, hypothetical risk assessment, and prediction of future riskstogether with the communication of potential dangers.

responsive data

During the “drill”, the data derived from the astrometric observations were available for analysis in the created risk assessment model almost immediately, allowing real time updates of the calculation of the probability of impact and the possible locations of the collision.

At the same time, an early measurement of the asteroid’s diameter from information provided by NEOWISE provided a significant decrease in uncertainty about the range of possibilities around hypothetical impacts. The availability of different characterization methods, such as photometry, spectroscopy, and radar, solidified the research team’s ability to assess potential impact risk.


Apophis Planetary Defense Campaign. Vishnu Reddy et al. The Planetary Science Journal (2022). DOI:https://doi.org/10.3847/PSJ/ac66eb

NEOWISE Observations of the Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (99942) Apophis. Akash Satpathy et al. The Planetary Science Journal (2022). DOI:https://doi.org/10.3847/PSJ/ac66d1

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