Huge ‘God of Chaos’ asteroid to pass near Earth in 2029: report

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A 1,110-foot-wide asteroid named for the Egyptian god of chaos will fly past Earth in 2029 within the distance of some orbiting spacecraft, according to reports.

The asteroid, 99942 Apophis, will come within 19,000 miles of Earth on April 13, a decade from now, but scientists at the Planetary Defense Conference are already preparing for the encounter, Newsweek reported. They plan to discuss the asteroid’s effects on Earth’s gravity, potential research opportunities and even how to deflect an incoming asteroid in a theoretical scenario.

Scientists say most asteroids that pass near Earth aren’t more than 30 feet wide, making Apophis, named for an Egyptian god of chaos, a rare opportunity for research.

Asteroids have been hitting Earth for nearly 300 million years

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The asteroid will be visible to the naked eye and will look like a moving star point of light, according to NASA. It will pass over the United States in the early evening, according to WUSA 9.

Apophis was discovered in 2004 and, after tracking it for 15 years, scientists say the asteroid has a 1 in 100,000 chance of striking Earth decades in the future – after 2060, Newsweek reported.

X-37B Military Space Plane’s Latest Mystery Mission Passes 600 Days

Exactly what it’s doing up there is unclear.

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The U.S. Air Force’s X-37B space plane has now been circling Earth for more than 600 days on its latest mystery mission.

The reusable robotic vehicle, which looks like a miniature version of NASA’s space shuttle orbiters, launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sept. 7, 2017. 

As of today (April 30), the space plane has been aloft for 601 days, on a mission known as Orbital Test Vehicle 5 (OTV-5) because it’s the fifth flight of the X-37B program.

Related: The X-37B Space Plane: 6 Surprising Facts

It’s unclear what exactly the spacecraft is doing up there. X-37B missions are classified, and Air Force officials tend to speak of project goals in general terms, as this excerpt from the X-37B fact sheet shows: “The primary objectives of the X-37B are twofold: reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth.”

An artist’s depiction of the U.S. Air Force’s unmanned X-37B space plane in orbit with its solar array deployed and payload bay open.

Still, the Air Force does divulge some payloads flying on X-37B missions. For example, we know that OTV-5 includes the Advanced Structurally Embedded Thermal Spreader experiment (ASETS-II), which is measuring the performance of electronics and oscillating heat pipes in the space environment. 

The Air Force has at least two X-37B vehicles, both of which were built by Boeing. Each space plane is 29 feet (8.8 meters) long and 9.6 feet (2.9 m) tall, with a wingspan of almost 15 feet (4.6 m). The solar-powered spacecraft have payload bays about the size of a pickup-truck bed.

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The X-37B launches vertically and lands horizontally on a runway, like the space shuttle orbiters did.

OTV-5 is not, so far, the longest-duration X-37B mission, though the outing will earn that distinction if the established pattern holds: Each OTV flight has lasted longer than its predecessors:

  • OTV-1 launched on April 22, 2010, and ended on Dec. 3, 2010 (224 days in space).
  • OTV-2 began March 5, 2011, and landed on June 16, 2012 (468 days).
  • OTV-3 launched on Dec. 11, 2012, and came down on Oct. 17, 2014 (675 days).
  • OTV-4 lifted off on May 20, 2015, and landed May 7, 2017 (718 days).