Apophis: All About The God of Chaos Asteroid

~4 min

Out of all asteroids that can be found in the Sky Tonight app, Apophis is one of the most frequently searched for. No wonder: it was predicted to hit the Earth in 2029, so people have been keeping an eye on it ever since it was discovered.


What is Apophis?

99942 Apophis is a near-Earth asteroid that orbits the Sun about every 324 days. It was discovered in 2004. Initially, Apophis was given a 2.7% of colliding with the Earth in 2029. This prediction led to speculation linking Apophis with the biblical Wormwood, mentioned in the Book of Revelation as a star that falls from the sky, making the waters bitter and causing suffering for many. Although further observations ruled out the possibility of impact in the near future, a doomsday atmosphere still lingers around the asteroid. Even its name has a malicious aura.

What does the name Apophis mean?

Apophis is named after the evil Egyptian deity, the embodiment of destruction and darkness; that’s why it’s also known as the ‘God Of Chaos’ asteroid. In Egyptian mythology, Apophis (also spelled Apep, Apepi, or Aapep) is a giant serpent trying to devour the Sun every night. His arch-enemy, Ra, as a god of Sun, defeats him every morning at dawn.

How big is Apophis?

Apophis is possibly shaped like an egg or a peanut and measures about 370 meters (1,214 feet) in diameter (450 meters (1476 feet) long and 170 meters (557 feet) wide). To compare, the Tunguska impactor that flattened 80 million trees of the taiga forest was about 4 times smaller (100 meters (328 feet) in diameter), and the Chicxulub asteroid that took out the dinosaurs was about 27 times larger (10 kilometers (32808 feet) in diameter).

How Big Is Apophis
Apophis is about 450 meters (1476 feet) long, comparable in size to the Empire State Building.

What would happen if Apophis hit the Earth?

Apophis’ Path of Risk
If Apophis were to collide with Earth in 2029, it would impact densely populated areas in Europe, India, China, and Japan.

Apophis is big enough to cause significant local damage. In short, if Apophis hit the Earth, cities anywhere near the impact site wouldn’t stand a chance, and the long-term effects could affect the entire world's population:

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  • The collision would release energy equivalent to about 1,200 megatons of TNT, or multiple nuclear explosions. That's enough to wreak everything within a few tens of kilometers and cause wildfires over an even larger area.
  • If the asteroid fell into the ocean, the consequences would be just as catastrophic: it could trigger tsunamis hundreds of meters high that would wipe out everything in a coastal area.
  • The resulting dust and debris (or water vapor, if the asteroid lands into the ocean) thrown into the atmosphere would cause drastic climate change.

Asteroid Apophis: what will happen in 2029?

Apophis near Earth
Although Apophis will come closer to the Earth than the Moon, it is expected to pass our planet safely.

On April 13, 2029 (by the way, that will be a Friday the 13th), Apophis will pass at about 31,600 kilometers (19,600 miles) of the Earth (with an uncertainty region of about 3.4 kilometers). That’s 10 times closer to us than the Moon, and also closer than the ring of geostationary satellites orbiting our planet! Around this time, OSIRIS-APEX spacecraft (once known as OSIRIS-REx) will meet Apophis and study it for about the next 18 months. This will be the closest approach to the Earth by an asteroid of this size that has been predicted in advance, so scientists couldn’t let such an opportunity go to waste. Anyway, you might be more interested in whether this planet-asteroid rendezvous will end in an impact event.

Will Apophis hit the Earth?

Not anytime soon. Apophis is expected to approach the Earth in 2029, 2036, and 2068, and radar observations and orbit analysis showed it will not hit our planet in either case. Any chance of impact is ruled out for at least the next 100 years (and even further) thanks to the observation campaign conducted in March 2021 (yet, some media and individuals still seem to be unaware). As told by Richard Binzel, a planetary scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “the three most important things about Apophis are: Apophis will miss the Earth. Apophis will miss the Earth. Apophis will miss the Earth”.

By the way, we’ve been keeping track of asteroids that have a chance of hitting the Earth this year. Visit the dedicated article to learn more about dangerous asteroids and the ways to detect and deflect them!

Will Apophis be visible in the sky?

Apophis in the Sky
On April 13, 2029, see Apophis moving across the sky. It’s best to find a place away from the city lights.

No matter what is happening in space, stargazing enthusiasts are always curious about one thing: will we see something special in the sky? Well, yes! On April 13, 2029, Apophis will be visible to the naked-eyed observers from Europe, Africa, and western Asia. It will look like a rather bright (mag 3) star-like object located in the constellation Cancer. If you watch it for some time, you’ll see it moving slowly (roughly the Moon's diameter per minute). With the help of Sky Tonight, you’ll be able to easily find Apophis and tell it from stars and other bright dots in the sky. Note that shortly after the approach to the Earth, it will appear too close to the Sun to be properly observed.

Asteroid Apophis: to sum up

Apophis is a massive near-Earth asteroid that will come close to our planet in 2029, 2036, and 2068. Despite initial predictions made upon its discovery in 2004, Apophis won’t hit the Earth. Try to pass our quiz about asteroids to broaden your outlook and take your mind off the gloomy thoughts of asteroids heading towards Earth.

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