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Why world might end by 2068

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*Asteroid ‘Apophis’ equal to the size of three football grounds may hit Earth
*Astronomers warn humans not prepared for a potential asteroid impact
*Experts test deflection techniques to save the planet from a catastrophic collision

Come 2068 and the whole of humanity could be potentially wiped out due to an asteroid attack. According to astronomers, an asteroid named ‘Apophis’ is expected to pass extremely close or may hit the Earth in 2068 due to a phenomenon called Yarkovsky effect. Interestingly, the asteroid is named after the Egyptian god of chaos and evil.

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The United States National Aeronautic Space Agency (NASA) said, discovered in 2004, asteroid Apophis is a 1,120-foot-wide (340-meter-wide) asteroid, about the size of three-and-a-half football fields.

Researchers at the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy (IfA) have announced the detection of Yarkovsky acceleration on the near-Earth asteroid Apophis. This acceleration arises from an extremely weak force on an object due to non-uniform thermal radiation.

This force is particularly important for the asteroid Apophis as it affects the probability of an Earth impact in 2068, the astronomers said.

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“All asteroids need to reradiate as heat the energy they absorb from sunlight in order to maintain thermal equilibrium, a process that slightly changes the orbit of the asteroid,” they wrote.

Meanwhile, a bus-sized asteroid passed by close to Earth’s atmosphere on September 24.

Apophis may approach extremely close to the Earth on April 13, 2029, when the 300 metre-sized asteroids will become visible to the unaided eye as it passes within the belt of communications satellites orbiting the earth.

Meanwhile, while the possibility of a catastrophic asteroid slamming into the earth is extremely rare, it may only be a matter of time before this threat becomes a reality.

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But experts have warned that humans are not prepared for an asteroid impact, and should one head for Earth, there is not much we can do about it.

A United States Aeronautic Space Agency (NASA) scientist has said that our best hope is building an interceptor rocket to keep in storage that could be used in deflection missions.

NASA is planning an ambitious mission that will see a robotic spaceship visit an asteroid to create an orbiting base for astronauts.

The robot ship will pluck a large boulder off the space rock and sling it around the moon, becoming a destination to prepare for future human missions to Mars.

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NASA plans to study the asteroid for about a year and test deflection techniques that one-day may be necessary to save Earth from a potentially catastrophic collision.

A researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Maryland, Dr. Joseph Nuth, had said: “The biggest problem, basically, is there’s not a hell of a lot we can do about it at the moment.”

While dangerous asteroids and comets rarely hit Earth, Nuth warned that the threat was always there.

He said: “They are the extinction-level events, things like dinosaur killers, they’re 50 to 60 million years apart, essentially. You could say, of course, we’re due, but it’s a random course at that point.”

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In the past, comets have come very close to hitting Earth.

In 1996, a comet narrowly missed our planet, instead of flying into Jupiter, and again in 2014, a comet passed “within cosmic spitting distance of Mars,” according to Nuth. And comets are often only discovered when it’s too late to launch a deflection mission.

Nuth said: “If you look at the schedule for high-reliability spacecraft and launching them, it takes five years to launch a spacecraft. We had 22 months of total warning.”

Nuth advised that NASA should build an interceptor rocket alongside an observer spacecraft, which he says could cut the five-year delay to launch in half.

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And if a rocket could be devised that could launch within a year, Nuth said it “could mitigate the possibility of a sneaky asteroid coming in from a place that’s hard to observe, like from the sun.”

Various techniques for deflecting a potentially hazardous asteroid could be tested on Arm to enable planetary defense capabilities.

These techniques include Ion Beam Deflection, Enhanced Gravity Tractor, and kinetic impactors.

In Ion Beam Deflection, the plumes from the thrusters would be directed towards the asteroid to gently push on its surface over a wide area. A thruster firing in the opposite direction would be needed to keep the spacecraft at a constant distance from the asteroid.

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The Ion Beam Deflection approach is independent of the size of the asteroid, and it could be demonstrated on either mission option. In the Enhanced Gravity Tractor approach, the spacecraft would first pick up a boulder from the asteroid’s surface as in mission Option B.

The spacecraft with the collected boulder would then orbit in a circular halo around the asteroid’s velocity vector.

The mass of the boulder coupled with the mass of the spacecraft would increase the gravitational attraction between the spacecraft and the asteroid.

By flying the spacecraft in close formation with the asteroid for several months the very small gravitational forces would produce a measurable change in the asteroid’s trajectory. A kinetic impactor could also be launched as a secondary payload with the spacecraft or on a separate launch vehicle, and it would collide with the target asteroid at high velocity while the spacecraft observed the impact.

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