The Universitat d’Alacant (UA) participates in the proposed Ramses space mission to study the close passage of an asteroid to Earth.

On April 13, 2029, the asteroid Apophis will make its journey just 31,000 kilometers from the Earth’s surface. Apophis, which is about 300 meters in size, will pass below the orbit of stationary telecommunications satellites, and will be visible to the naked eye in the skies of Europe and Africa.

ESA – the European Space Agency in its acronym in English – wants to study this event and to do so it is promoting the realization of Ramses, a space mission whose purpose is to study the asteroid before its close pass to Earth and follow it during his departure, the Alicante university points out in a statement.

At the moment, the project is in its planning and study phase, a phase in which the Planetary Sciences team of the Astronomy and Astrophysics group of the University of Alicante is participating. Ramses would broadcast practically live images of the approach of Apohis.

“Although the passage of Apophis will not represent any danger to the Earth or to these satellites, it is an extremely rare event, which occurs on average once every 7,500 years, and which reminds us that we must constantly monitor the skies to discover potential impact risks from other asteroids,” explains Adriano Campo Bagatin, coordinator of the Planetary Sciences team at the University Institute of Physics Applied to Sciences and Technologies (IUFACyT) of the UA.

Campo Bagatin participated last month in the ‘APOPHIS T-5’ conference, which was held at ESTEC (The Netherlands), one of the headquarters of the European Space Agency (ESA), where the need to take advantage of this unique event to study how these asteroids respond when they approach Earth in such an extreme way: “This knowledge is essential to develop defense strategies in the event that it is necessary, at some point, to deflect an asteroid that is on a collision path with our planet “.

Furthermore, as the researcher highlights, it is possible to carry out this space mission with such short notice, thanks to the fact that a space probe does not have to be built from scratch because the material is the same as that of the Hera mission, also from the ESA, which will be launched this coming October.

This event is a unique opportunity to check what effects such a close approach has on the structure of these celestial bodies. The researcher explains that, for this reason, the NASA space probe, OSIRIS-Rex, which visited the asteroid Bennu in 2018, has seen its mission extended to reach Apophis on its approach in 2029, thus taking the name OSIRIS-. APEX. “Unfortunately, APEX will only be able to approach Apophis after its approach to Earth,” notes Professor Campo Bagatin.

The RAMSES mission falls within the planetary defense strategy that ESA, in collaboration with other international space agencies, such as NASA. However, the realization of RAMSES hangs by a thread, since it depends on the financing of the countries interested in developing it.

“Now, more than ever, it is necessary to translate into facts those claims to promote science that became so viral during the pandemic. Spain can contribute substantially to this mission, since numerous research groups are involved in it, as well as like several companies in the aerospace industry. And it is a unique opportunity that we should take advantage of, because waiting 7,500 years for another event of this type does not seem like a reasonable option,” says Adriano Campo Bagatin.