Named ominously after the Egyptian god of chaos, Apophis measures 340 meters across and was first spotted by astronomers at the Kitt Peak National Observatory, Arizona in June 2004.
What made it particularly remarkable at the time was the fact that it seemed to have a 2.7% chance of striking the Earth in 2029, however this has since been revised down to just 1 in 150,000.
Even so, when it does skim past Earth in eight years’ time it will pass so close to our planet that scientists will have a unique opportunity to study it up close.
2029 won’t be the only opportunity to observe Apophis either – it will also be passing relatively close to the Earth on March 5th of this year, giving scientists another chance to study it in advance.
There certainly won’t be anything to worry about though – this time around it will only come within 40 times the orbit of the Moon – however in 2029 it will venture within a mere 19,794 miles of our planet.
“This something that occurs about once every 1,000 years, so obviously, it is generating a lot of interest,” said scientist Marina Brozovic from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
Despite it posing no risk, studying the space rock could help us learn more about asteroids in our solar system and how we might avoid a collision with another, more dangerous candidate in the future.
“Apophis is a representative of about 2,000 currently known Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs),” said Paul Chodas of JPL’s Center for Near Earth Objects Studies (CNEOS).
“By observing Apophis during its 2029 flyby, we will gain important scientific knowledge that could one day be used for planetary defense.”