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Astronomy wants to become a field open to the whole of society, not only to observe stars and planets but also to prevent the destruction of the planet itself due to an unplanned impact.
This is the goal of Unistellar Optics, the company that has developed the eVscope home telescope, so that, from the comfort of one's home, anyone can look up at the vast universe that looms over humanity.
In a compelling tone, the company launched a challenge to observe the trajectory of Apophis on February 21, the day it was hidden behind a star, so it could be observed; moreover, it will pass dangerously close to the Earth and the Moon by the year 2029, 2036 and 2068, the latter being the one with the highest risk of impact.
To do so, they launched the challenge of observing the "infamous" Asteroid 99942 Apophis. They wonder if it would be capable of destroying orbital satellites or directly impacting the Earth's atmosphere.
Thus, Apophis has been classified as a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid -PHA-, since, in 2029, it is expected to pass 31,860 kilometers away from the Earth's surface.
By 2029, Apophis' orbit is expected to change due to its approach to Earth and the Moon.
These predictions have been joined by the latest ones made by NASA's CNEOS center, in charge of cataloging objects at risk of impact, which has observed how this has decreased thanks to the so-called Yarkovsky effect, by which the orbit of a small object in the Solar System is modified due to the absorption of solar radiation.
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"One of the great mysteries about Apophis is how its orbit changes when the asteroid is illuminated by the Sun; this Yarkovsky effect is very difficult to simulate, so direct observation of an occultation - the asteroid passes in front of a star - will give us greater precision of the asteroid's position," explained Franck Marchis, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute (USA) and chief scientist at Unistellar, in a statement.
This effect has been observed by astronomers at the University of Hawaii (United States), who update almost daily the data on the risk probabilities, as well as the danger of a possible collision in 2068, the expected date of impact.
Observing Apophis, the "god of chaos," is a vitally important action for the Earth, as the asteroid belongs to the subgroup of those that pass dangerously close to the planet, known as Aton asteroids.
In addition, many of them are categorized as potentially hazardous and, specifically, Apophis has a diameter of 340 meters, which poses a greater risk.
Since its discovery in 2004 by Dave Tholen and astronomers at the University of Hawaii, thanks to the Subaru telescope on Maunakea, Apophis has been closely followed, including these recent changes due to the Yarkovsky effect.
Unfortunately, astronomers used the Arecibo telescope (Puerto Rico) to observe objects like these, although it was dismantled in 2020, after several technical failures in its structure.
For this reason, Unistellar asked for help from the public and, in particular, from amateur astronomers, so that no details would be missed by the official Apophis researchers.
On the other hand, although the asteroid could be observed last February 21 across the United States, help from the public is still welcome, as the risk of Apophis impact remains active for the next few years.
Only the collaboration of all the people will be able to really defend the terrestrial citizens, who have their first enemy in this asteroid, the most dangerous that has ever grazed the Earth.
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