An detailed analysis of the tumbling of the asteroid Apophis, detected by radar observations in January, suggests it will be easier to predict the asteroid’s orbit in the future.


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The sky isn’t falling: A detailed analysis of the tumbling of the asteroid Apophis, detected by radar observations in January, suggests it will be easier to predict the asteroid’s orbit in the future.

The gentle but persistent nudging [of the Yarkovsky effect] arises when sunlight is absorbed by a rotating object and then reradiated as heat in some other direction. In particular, if Apophis were spinning retrograde (opposite the way Earth does), then over time its orbit would change in a way that increases the chance of impact in 2036. But now we can rest easy, because Apophis appears to be tumbling as it orbits the Sun. That’s the conclusion reached by a team of telescopic observers who monitored the asteroid’s light curve as it passed near Earth in January. Apophis is spinning around two axes at the same time, implying that any Sun-warmed surfaces are radiating heat in all directions, not just one in particular.

It is very difficult to measure the Yarkovsky effect, thus making it very difficult to precisely calculate the orbits of many near Earth asteroids. In the case of Apophis, however, it appears the astronomers have gotten a good handle on the problem.

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