Russia’s space agency has been holding meetings about Apophis – the asteroid due to pass close to Earth in 2029. If it is not diverted, a collision could potentially kill millions, scientists say.
“Apophis was discovered in 2004,” explains Boris Shustov, Director of the Institute of Astronomy. “The probability of a collision with the Earth was very high, about 1 to 30. The collision of such a large body with our planet will cause great damage.”
Although others have estimated the probability of the collision to be lower, an asteroid with a diameter of 300m is still a cause for concern. Scientists insist that the critical moment will come in 2029 when Apophis passes so close to Earth that it will be visible to the naked eye. Although there will be no threat of an impact at that particular moment, it is not until then that scientists will know whether or not the 27 million ton rock will eventually collide with Earth when it approaches it again in 2036. NASA has dismissed all fears saying the chances of a collision are remote. While the Russian space agency said it still wanted to be prepared.
“I think that exaggerating things and scaring ourselves would be incorrect,” admits Anatoly Koroteev, President of the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics. “But nonetheless, doing nothing and taking no measures would be wrong: all the more so, because the threat can be overcome.” NASA has estimated that if the asteroid were to collide with Earth, the blast would be a hundred thousand times more powerful than the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
Blowing up Apophis with nuclear weapons to prevent the impact has been ruled out, as weapons of mass destruction are forbidden in space by international treaty. One potential strategy is to send up spacecraft to nudge and deflect the asteroid. If this is the case, NASA and the European Space Agency would be invited to take part once a mission is finalized, the Russian Space Agency has said