CREDIT: Don Davis/NASAScientists plan to test asteroid deflection on Apophis in 2015. ESA will impact it with a spacecraft named Hidalgo and see how that changed the asteroids path.
Apophis, a 1,600-foot-wide asteroid, has a one in 250,000 chance of hitting Earth in 2036, creating a real-life Armageddon situation. But scientists are not taking any chances in assuming the odds are in our favor.
Though the asteroid is expected to pass Earth in 2029, it could enter a gravitational keyhole, which could send it back towards Earth with the potential for impact in 2036. According to Technology Review, keyholes are small — the one in question being 600 meters wide — so deflecting the asteroid just a touch would be enough to send it off course and ensure it doesn’t come back toward Earth seven years later.
The European Space Agency and Chinese researchers have independently announced plans to begin testing methods of asteroid deflection. Scientists at both European Space Agency and Tsinghua University in Beijing believe that spacecraft collision with the asteroid is the best way to set it off course.
The European Space Agency will test its technique against a real asteroid in 2015 in a mission called Don Quijote. Don Quijote involves two spacecrafts. One, called Hidalgo, will impact the asteroid at a speed of six miles per second while the other (Sancho) will orbit the asteroid before and after collision collecting data and analyzing just how far off course the impactor spacecraft threw the asteroid.