A decade from now, on April 13, 2029, a giant asteroid known as Apophis, named after the Egyptian god of chaos, will streak past Earth as close as some orbiting spacecraft.
Its approach will fall on what's known to be an unlucky day for humans: Friday the 13th.
However, experts assure that there's no need to worry about an impending doom from the god of chaos. Instead, astronomers are excited at the prospect of getting up close and personal with a space rock of this caliber.
A Rare Near-Earth Asteroid
NASA reveals that the near-Earth asteroid called 99942 Apophis is massive, extending as wide as 1,115 feet (340 meters). It will cruise by the planet at a distance of about 19,000 miles (31,000 kilometers) above the surface.
At one point of its flyby past Earth, the asteroid will travel more than the width of the full moon in the span of a minute, shining as bright as the stars in the Little Dipper.
It's not the first time asteroids have flown this close to Earth, but the ones that have been previously observed are smaller at 16 to 32 feet (5 to 10 meters) wide. Since there are fewer asteroids as massive as Apophis in existence, it's also much rarer to see one get so near the planet.
"The excitement is that an object this large comes this close about once per thousand years, so it's all about, 'What's the opportunity?'" said Richard Binzel, a planetary scientist at MIT, during the conference.
With Apophis' size and proximity to Earth, about 2 billion people should be able to see it with their naked eye in 2029.
Planning For Planetary Defense
During a session of the 2019 Planetary Defense Conference in Maryland on Tuesday, April 30, scientists discussed the ways Apophid's flyby could help prepare Earth for potential collisions further down the line.
Paul Chodas, the director of JPL's Center for Near Earth Objects Studies, pointed out to NASA that Apophis is only one of roughly 2,000 known potentially hazardous asteroids in space.
"By observing Apophis during its 2029 flyby, we will gain important scientific knowledge that could one day be used for planetary defense," he added.
For instance, data on the asteroid's composition and structure could provide valuable knowledge to engineers if it becomes imperative to blow apart or push away an asteroid on a potential collision path to Earth.