Ever since the first asteroid was discovered in 1801, astronomers have looked to find other similar objects in our Solar System. Many of these minor planets can be found in a belt between Mars and Jupiter. However, often many asteroids are lone wanderers, roaming beyond the limits of the Asteroid Belt and they often find themselves drifting into the inner Solar System skimming past the Earth and often a little too close for comfort.
Asteroids lurking around the Earth? An artist impression of an asteroid belt around a nearby star HD69830. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle (SSC)
One asteroid with a suitably menacing name and an equally threatening demeanor is the asteroid 99942, Apophis, discovered in 2004. Named after the ancient Egyptian god of darkness and chaos, this asteroid sought fame as it had the promised to live up to its name and plunge the Earth into turmoil as its orbit brought it straight in line with a head-on collision with the Earth in 2036. Before the Aerosmith Armageddon tracks starts playing in your head, relax the risk of this happening has now been downgraded significantly!
Goldstone radar dish helped earth determine the future of Apophis. (Image credit: NASA)