From Bennu to Apophis: NASA renames mission for next asteroid rendezvous

From Bennu to Apophis: NASA renames mission for next asteroid rendezvous

In a cosmic double play, the spacecraft that brought us precious asteroid samples from Bennu is preparing for a thrilling new adventure. Reborn as OSIRIS-APEX, it sets its sights on Apophis, a near-Earth behemoth whose 2029 flyby will be the closest in recorded history.

This daring mission capitalizes on a celestial spectacle. In April 2029, Apophis, a stony giant unlike the carbon-rich Bennu, will brush past Earth at just 20,000 miles – closer than some of our own satellites! Such encounters of this scale are estimated to occur only once every 7,500 years, making it a truly once-in-a-millennium event.

But here’s the twist: Earth’s gravitational pull will act like a celestial slingshot, potentially altering Apophis’ orbit, spin, and even its surface. OSIRIS-APEX will be front and center, witnessing these transformations in unprecedented detail.

This cosmic detective will spend 18 months meticulously analyzing Apophis. Imagine it skimming the asteroid’s surface, kicking up dust to reveal hidden secrets, just like it did on Bennu. The data it gathers will not only deepen our understanding of planetary formation but also inform strategies for protecting our planet from future asteroid threats.

Before this epic rendezvous, OSIRIS-APEX will undergo a series of slingshots around Earth and the Sun, meticulously adjusting its course. Then, come April 2nd, 2029, it will begin its close-up observations, waiting with bated breath for the grand show to unfold.