Asteroids constantly bombard the Earth. Millions of asteroids zoom by us at all times. In 2004, NASA scientists spotted an asteroid headed toward Earth. They called it Apophis. It’s much smaller than the Chicxulub asteroid that killed off all dinosaurs 66 million years ago. In Egyptian mythology, Apophis was a serpent and the enemy of Ra, the sun god.
Chicxulub vs. Apophis Asteroids
The Chicxulub asteroid that killed the dinosaurs is a big one to beat. It’s been estimated to have been around 10 to 15 kilometers wide. As it slammed into Earth, it released a force that would be equivalent to 100 million hydrogen bombs. The impact killed off nearly all life, including dinosaurs on Earth, and created an enormous dust cloud that blocked out sunlight for years, leading to rapid climate cooling across the planet.
Scientists use radar technology to estimate the size of Apophis. Their results are impressive: The asteroid is roughly 450 meters (1500 feet) wide and 170 meters (550 feet) tall. It’s about five football fields in length and taller than the Empire State Building in New York. That might sound like it could cause severe damage, but NASA has given it a low probability of impact in 2029 and 2036.
Would Apophis Still Be Catastrophic if It Hit Earth?
Apophis is a near-Earth asteroid that has gotten much attention over the last few years. The rock, named after the Egyptian god of darkness and destruction, has been approaching Earth for quite some time. It’s not set to make contact with planet Earth soon—but if it did, it could have devastating effects.
If Apophis came into contact with Earth, it could send out shockwaves, earthquakes, and tsunamis. If it collides with the Earth, it would likely break up into several pieces due to the force of impact. This collision would send out shockwaves that travel through Earth and shake everything around it.
Some say this could cause tsunamis and earthquakes comparable to those caused by a major hurricane or a magnitude nine earthquake. If the asteroid made contact with the ocean or land, it could cause billions of dollars worth of damage and potentially kill thousands of people.
Apophis and Gravity
Gravity affects everything in our universe. When you drop something from your hand, it falls because of gravity. When a star goes supernova, it unleashes massive amounts of energy.
When an object passes close to another massive object in space (such as an asteroid passing close to a planet), its gravitational forces will cause both objects to change their trajectory slightly. If two stars collide, the phenomenon is called gravitational perturbation.
The Power of Apophis
Asteroids generally have two main kinds of power: kinetic energy, which is its speed multiplied by its mass, and potential energy, which is mass multiplied by the height from which it falls. When an asteroid hits Earth, its potential energy becomes kinetic as it crashes into the ground.
That’s not how asteroids die. Most asteroids burn up in the atmosphere before reaching Earth’s surface because they move fast. When an object burns up in the atmosphere, it’s called “ablate.” If an object’s ablation is done with no outside force, it keeps going faster and faster until it burns away.
Image source: Ron Miller credit
Would asteroids like Apophis be explosive, as seen in Dinosaur movies? Apophis likely wouldn’t be nearly as catastrophic as the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs. The Chicxulub asteroid significantly changed the climate and ended the dinosaur era millions of years ago.