China is reportedly considering trying to land a probe on asteroid Apophis when it makes a crucial swing past the Earth in 2029.
Apophis is a controversial topic for astronomers and skywatchers in general.
When it was originally identified as a threat in December 2004, NASA put the chance of the 325m wide rock hitting the Earth in 2029 at 1 in 62, causing widespread media coverage about the new “Doomsday Asteroid”.
Within a week, the chance of a 2029 strike was eliminated and focus shifted on its chances of passing through a gravitational “keyhole”, which would pull it into a collision path with the Earth seven years later.
The worst case scenario for that to happen was a 1 in 5560 chance in 2036.
That’s now blown out to 7.07 in a billion as more information is gathered on the asteroid, but there’s still plenty of excitement about the 2029 pass which many hope will provide final clarification of the odds of a strike by 2100.
Yesterday, as the European Space Agency celebrated the end of a 10-year space odyssey by becoming the first team to land a craft on a comet, China’s Modern Express reported that the China Academy of Space Technology had pegged Apophis for its first attempt at the feat.
Purple Mountain Observatory research professor Ji Janghui told the Modern Express that his team hoped to collect surface soil samples from the asteroid and accurately measure its flight path and speed.
China’s exploratory push into space has gathered pace in the past few years and is starting to return some impressive results.
It’s had a rover on the Moon for most of 2014, the “Jade Rabbit”, which was the subject of much mockery by Western media after it looked like it wouldn’t draw enough solar power to travel after just six weeks on the Moon.
Even Patrick Stewart took the time to point and laugh along with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.
But it came back to life and battled on well past its three-month life expectancy and is even today still sending signals back to Earth, while the ESA struggles to salvage its $1.6 billion Philae probe which looks like it may be stuck in the dark under a cliff.
A fourth probe belonging to China’s Chang’e mission recently returned safely to Earth after a round trip to the other side of the Moon, paving the way for Chinese hopes to have a permanent station orbiting the Moon by 2020.
Ji Janghui was also involved in another successful Chang’e mission, Chang’e 2’s flyby of giant asteroid Toutatis as it swept past the Earth in at a distance of around 7 million in December last year.