A huge asteroid that gained notoriety due to its potential to impact the planet in 2068 won’t strike us after all, new data shows.
Asteroid 99942 Apophis was discovered in 2004 and was thought to be one of the most potentially dangerous asteroids, given its size of around 1,100 feet across and how close its orbit takes it to Earth. It is set to pass nearby Earth in 2029 and again in 2036, and it was thought that it could even impact the planet on its swingby in 2068.
You can breathe a sigh of relief though, as new data from asteroid tracking shows that this big chunk of rock won’t come smashing into us after all.
“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 (CNEOS) in a statement. “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.”
To pin down the asteroid’s orbit more exactly, researchers observed it using a huge radio antenna which is part of NASA’s Deep Space Network, which it uses to communicate with spacecraft exploring the solar system and beyond. This powerful antenna along with other tools like the Green Bank Telescope enabled them to observe the asteroid’s movements and therefore to predict how close it will come in the future.
Not only will we stay safe from this object, but its close orbit provides an opportunity to study it in greater detail and to learn about its composition and whether it holds and clues to the state of the early solar system.
“Although Apophis made a recent close approach with Earth, it was still nearly 10.6 million miles [17 million kilometers] away. Even so, we were able to acquire incredibly precise information about its distance to an accuracy of about 150 meters [490 feet],” said JPL scientist Marina Brozovic, who led the radar campaign. “This campaign not only helped us rule out any impact risk, it set us up for a wonderful science opportunity.”
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