An asteroid thought to be one of the biggest threats to strike the planet when it was first discovered back in 2004 is now being dismissed as a non-issue (at least for the foreseeable future) after astronomers were able to better assess its trajectory.
Check back in 100+ years.
Previously the object, dubbed ‘99942 Apophis,’ was believed to pose a slight risk of hitting Earth at some point in 2068. According to NASA’s analysis, more accurate radar observations have concluded that that’s not going to happen.
Apophis has been estimated to be about 1,100 feet wide. It first acquired notoriety after astronomers said it could be a risk to Earth in the year 2029. That was later amended. Using Playstation 2 graphics, the government agency illustrated the asteroid’s trajectory in that year like so:
Another potential impact in 2036 was later dismissed. Up until this month, it was still believed that the asteroid had a small chance of hitting Earth in 2068 but, on March 5, as the object got close enough to observe with a powerful radar, a re-estimation predicted that there was no impact risk in that year or the near future.
“A 2068 impact is not in the realm of possibility anymore, and our calculations don’t show any impact risk for at least the next 100 years,” said Davide Farnocchia of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies, according to a press release. “With the support of recent optical observations and additional radar observations, the uncertainty in Apophis’ orbit has collapsed from hundreds of kilometers to just a handful of kilometers when projected to 2029. This greatly improved knowledge of its position in 2029 provides more certainty of its future motion, so we can now remove Apophis from the risk list.”
As for where we’re currently at, Apophis will come within 20,000 miles of Earth’s surface on April 13, 2029. On that date, it can be seen by those in the Eastern Hemisphere without either binoculars or a telescope. According to Farnocchia, this is a date nerds in either hemisphere may want to circle, though that’s not quite how it was phrased.
“When I started working with asteroids after college, Apophis was the poster child for hazardous asteroids,” he added. “There’s a certain sense of satisfaction to see it removed from the risk list, and we’re looking forward to the science we might uncover during its close approach in 2029.”