The Planetary Society offers $$$

Posted by David Eicher
on Wednesday, December 13, 2006

On Wednesday afternoon at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco, the Planetary Society announced a major award for "asteroid tagging." The $50,000 prize will be awarded to the winner of the Society's Apophis Mission Design Competition, which asks participants to submit designs for a mission that could rendezvous with and "tag" a near-Earth asteroid (NEO) that could collide with Earth. According to the Society, tagging could be required to track an asteroid accurately enough to determine whether it poses a collision hazard with our planet. This would enable astronomers to judge whether a space mission would be warranted to deflect the asteroid.

Apophis, a 400-meter-diameter asteroid, will pass closer to Earth in 2029 than the orbits of geostationary satellites. The resulting orbit, in 2036, could bring Apophis to a point of collision with Earth, although that seems very unlikely. But tagging Apophis would enable astronomers to track it and determine the likelihood of a collision as accurately as possible.

"With this competition, we hope not only to generate creative thinking about tagging Apophis, but also to stimulate greater awareness of the broader near-Earth asteroid threat," says Bruce Betts, the Society's director of projects. Of Apophis, former astronaut Rusty Schweickert, an asteroid-collision expert, says, "While the odds are very slim that this particular asteroid will hit Earth in 30 years, they are not zero, and Apophis and other NEOs represent threats that need to be addressed." For more information on this competition, see the Planetary Society's home page.

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