D. Tholen, M. Micheli, G. Elliott, UH Institute for Astronomy

January 31, 2011, American astronomers at the University of Hawaii took the first pictures of the well-known asteroid Apophis on the way to its next passage by the Earth, which will take place January 9, 2013. To observe this still faint object, scientists used the 2.2 meter telescope of the university observatory located on the top of the Hawaiian volcano, Mauna Kea. These observations were complicated not only by the faintness of the object, but also by the small elongation of the asteroid.

With these observations begins a new round of study of this interesting and potentially hazardous object. Remember that April 13, 2029 it passes closer to the Earth than geostationary satellites, at an elevation of about 30,000 km, and will be visible to the unaided eye. This passage will not be dangerous for our planet. The danger may be in the asteroid flying through the so called “keyhole” – a zone of width of only 600 km. If that happens, the Earth’s own gravitational influence will bring the asteroid into an orbit of resonant return, and in 2036 the asteroid will collide with the Earth. The probabilty of such an event is very small, but it does exist. The fall of a body with a diameter on the order of 270 meters can have catastrophic consequences for the Earth. We still have time and we must protect ourselves regardless of how events might develop. But we must do this before the 2029 passage, otherwise the complexity of this already difficult task will increase many times.

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