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Anyone making plans for the year 2036 might want to put them on hold. That, at least, is the opinion of Russian space experts. In that year, they predict, the 900-foot-long asteroid Apophis will crash into Earth with enough force to destroy half a continent, killing a very large part of life on this planet—a virtual doomsday event. Reassuringly, ex­perts at NASA disagree.

Apophis was first discovered in 2004. At first the worry was that it would smash into Earth in 2029, but after run­ning the numbers again very carefully, all the scientists agreed it would miss us by about 35,000 miles. Close, but nothing to be concerned about. That, however, is not the end of the story.

There is a very small chance, about 1 in 250,000, that in 2029 Apophis could pass through something called a “gravity keyhole” which would mean that when it returns in 2036 it could indeed collide with Earth. That is what the Russians are warning about. NASA admits the risk but says they will know in 2029 what to expect in 2036; and if there is a problem, it will not be too late to crash a rocket into the asteroid and change its flight path. This is some­thing NASA did on July 4, 2005, when the craft Deep Impact was smashed into the comet Tempel 1. So, NASA says, don’t worry, they have got our back.

Why, then, do we feel like we have seen this movie before?

Asteroid Transport to Mars Touted

For those wondering how we are going to get to Mars—now that most of NASA’s funding for the purpose has been pulled—there comes a possible solution. Catch a ride on an asteroid.

Gregory Matloff, a physics professor at New York City’s College of Technology, says not only would an asteroid provide a cheap ride, but it would also shield the astronauts from cosmic rays, one of the biggest dangers of the mis­sion. Matloff says that in the next 90 years, at least five suitable asteroids will pass Earth on their way to Mars. The problem is that for the return trip astronauts would have to wait about five years for an asteroid going the other way.

Considering though that some scientists are proposing one-way missions to Mars, the long commuter wait might not be such a problem. It is not clear though if those same scientists are volunteering for the mission. Anyway, it beats Amtrak.


Wherever the late Zecharia Sitchin is these days, he will be cheered to hear that scientists now admit there may be a Planet X after all. If there is, however, it probably won’t be getting close to Earth anytime soon, certainly not by 2012. Astronomers are now looking for an enormous unknown planet—a gas giant four times the mass of Jupiter. If it’s there, they say, its orbit will be 15,000 times farther from the Sun than Earth’s and 375 times farther than Pluto. At that distance, one circuit round the Sun would last for millennia, which is one reason we wouldn’t have spotted it be­fore.

It will be cold, but since it takes much longer for such a gas giant to cool, it should still be five times warmer than Pluto. We’re talking -73C, they say, not exactly tropical; so if there were to be life on Planet X or on any moons it may have, it likely wouldn’t resemble anything we know.

A search of the Oort Cloud, that vast swarm of comets and debris surrounding the outer edges of the solar system, is underway now, led by astronomers John Matese and Daniel Whitmire at the University of Lousiana at Lafayette. If they find the new planet, Scientists have decided to call it Tyche, and the data they need to locate it should be coming in this Spring from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE); but it will take another couple years to crunch the numbers. If it’s there, though, they should know then where to point their telescopes.

For those who think the Sun is part of a binary star system, Tyche is said not to be the “Nemesis,” twin star, or previously unidentified brown dwarf, for which astronomers once hunted. The search for Tyche is based on anomalies in the angle of travel by some Comets in the Oort cloud.

Many scientists doubt the existence of Tyche, but the current survey is expected to settle the issue once and for all.

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