|Anatoly Perminov, the chief of Russia’s space agency.|
MOSCOW - Russia’s space agency chief said yesterday a spacecraft may be dispatched to knock a large asteroid off course and reduce the chances of Earth impact, even though US scientists say such a scenario is unlikely.
Anatoly Perminov told Golos Rossii radio the space agency would hold a meeting soon to assess a mission to Apophis. He said his agency might eventually invite NASA, the European Space Agency, the Chinese space agency, and others to join the project.
When the 885-foot asteroid was first discovered in 2004, astronomers estimated its chances of smashing into Earth in its first flyby, in 2029, at 1 in 37.
Further studies have ruled out the possibility of an impact in 2029, when the asteroid is expected to come no closer than 18,300 miles from Earth’s surface, but they indicated a small possibility of a hit on subsequent encounters.
NASA had put the chances that Apophis could hit Earth in 2036 as 1-in-45,000. In October, after researchers recalculated the asteroid’s path, the agency changed its estimate to 1-in-250,000.
NASA said another close encounter in 2068 will involve a 1-in-330,000 chance of impact. “It wasn’t anything to worry about before. Now it’s even less so,’’ said Steve Chesley, an astronomer with the Near Earth Object Program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Without mentioning NASA’s conclusions, Perminov said that he heard from a scientist that Apophis is getting closer and may hit the planet. “I don’t remember exactly, but it seems to me it could hit the Earth by 2032,’’ Perminov said.
Scientists have long theorized about asteroid deflection strategies. Some have proposed sending a probe to circle around a dangerous asteroid to gradually change its trajectory.