Chinese researchers plan to build a solar sail-powered spacecraft that will launch into space in the near future on a suicide mission to save planet Earth. Now, stay on your toes, this gets tricky. There is an astroid, called Apophis, that is headed straight into our orbit in 2029. Predictions in 2004 said that this astroid in question would most likely hit the Earth or the Moon, possibly destroying all life on our planet. Additional observations said that Apophis, deadly astroid, was actually most probably not going to hit us in 2029, but would definitely whip back around through a “keyhole” in the solar system and hit us in 2036 — maybe ending all life on planet Earth. That is, unless the Chinese plan works out — if it fails, the Europeans are planning a deflecting game of their own, which they’ll be trying out in 2015.

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This graph above shows the projected path of Apophis in 2029 — a little close for comfort we’d say. After the asteroid passes by us on this trajectory it will be headed straight toward a “keyhole” in our solar system. A keyhole is a small area of space where an asteroid’s course is changed due to its interaction with a planet’s gravitational pull. After passing through this keyhole — which is only 2,000 feet wide — the asteroid would then spin right around and come crashing back toward Earth — without the keyhole it would just continue on its giant orbit. The Chinese plan is to use a solar powered spacecraft to crash into Apophis — before it passes in 2029 — at a speed of 56 miles per second which would hopefully knock the hunk of rock enough off course that it would miss the keyhole and in turn miss crashing into Earth.

The Chinese calculations say they’ll need a spacecraft with just a 22 pound solar sail to hit the 50 million-ton asteroid sometime before 2029 to complete their mission. Though it seems like they’ve got it all worked out, there are a number of factors that could get in the way. Solar winds, for one, could alter wildly the solar sail-powered spacecrafts trajectory. A mission like this is a bit like trying to hit a speeding bullet with another speeding bullet in mid air. With the unpredictability of the solar system there’s going to have to be a lot of good fortune involved. Otherwise, perhaps Deep Impact is about to become a reality. Let’s hope Elijah Wood still knows where to run.

Via Technology Review