NASA Astronomers Prepare for January 9 Asteroid Apophis Flyby near Planet Earth

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By Jenalyn Villamarin | January 8, 2013 10:41 AM EST

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) astronomers are getting ready for asteroids and comets that could flyby near planet Earth this 2013.

NASA's deep-space radars at Goldstone, California and Arecibo, Puerto Rico will reportedly monitor space on January 9 for a particular flyby of an asteroid identified as 99942 Apophis at approximately 14.5 million kilometers away.

The asteroid, which was first discovered in 2004, was named after the Egyptian god of evil and darkness measuring at an approximately 877 feet across. Early computations only suggested a 2.7% probability of asteroid collision in 2029.

This became the highest ever prediction made for an asteroid but the threat was rapidly lowered after several observations made.

"Even so, for April 13, 2036, there is still a tiny chance of an impact", NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) stated further adding that the danger is more likely to occur at about 1 in 250,000.

"Using new measurements of the asteroid's distance and line-of-sight velocity, we hope to reduce the orbital uncertainties and extend the interval over which we can compute the motion into the future. It's possible that the new measurements improve the orbit to the point that we can completely rule out an impact," Lance Benner of JPL stated in an email.

Mark Bailey, Director of Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland, claimed the asteroid Apophis is the closest asteroid to pass by the planet Earth.

"Because it is coming so close, even amateur astronomers will be able to watch it as it moves against background stars, and it may be visible through binoculars," Bailey declared.

NASA Astronomers also expects comet flybys will make the year 2013 remarkable for science. First is the Comet 2011 L4 (PANSTARRS). The comet was named after the telescope that spotted it at the University of Hawaii in 2011.

According to US Specialist Gary Kronk, PANSTARRS may be seen at its brightest from March 8 to 12.

Comet ISON is another extraordinary phenomenon that astronomers look out for. The comet was named after the International Scientific Optical Network. Russian astronomers Vitaly Nevski and Artyom Novichonok used ISON's telescope with the discovery of the comet in September 2011.

It is currently undetermined how bright Comet ISON will be but some computations estimate that it could become visible to the naked eye on late November with the possibility of lingering radiantly for months.

ISON is an extraordinary new comet coming from a region of the Solar System called Oort Cloud.

"It is an extensive system that extends from around a thousand times the distance of the Earth to the Sun to around 100,000-200,000 times this distance. If you imagine a model of the Solar System whereby the Sun's a football in the centre of a football pitch and the Earth is on the perimeter, then this comet has come effectively from Australia. That's the scale of things," Bailey shared.

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