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Asteroid Trackers

Scientists are keeping tabs on an asteroid called Apophis, an 820-foot chunk of rock moseying toward Earth at about 22 miles per second. Apophis—named after an ancient Egyptian god of evil, naturally—will pass near our planet in 2029. How near is near? Closer than our own communication satellites.B...

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Scientists are keeping tabs on an asteroid called Apophis, an 820-foot chunk of rock moseying toward Earth at about 22 miles per second. Apophis—named after an ancient Egyptian god of evil, naturally—will pass near our planet in 2029. How near is near? Closer than our own communication satellites.

But don’t despair just yet. Apophis is far smaller than the asteroid that took out the dinosaurs. That bad boy was about 6 miles across, creating a 93-mile-wide impact crater when it hit.

In “Asteroid Trackers,” a Smithsonian Channel special, Jay Melosh, an astrophysicist at the University of Arizona, describes what would happen if a similar sized asteroid hit the Earth today. “The sky would turn bright red, we’d begin to feel oppressive heat as if there were six tropical suns in the sky. Clothing would ignite, you would suffer third-degree burns, newspaper ignites, plywood burns, deciduous trees spontaneously ignite, and grass ignites.”

If that doesn’t have you cowering under the bed, watch “Asteroid Trackers” to discover how scientists track the hazards of incoming asteroids. "Asteroid Trackers" will be shown on July 25. See local listings for more details.

See a sneak peek, below.

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