An artist's illustration of asteroid Apophis near Earth. The asteroid will fly extremely close to Earth in 2029, and then again in 2036, but poses no threat of hitting the planet. (Photo : Dan Durda/FIAAA via Space.com)
Earth is no longer in danger of being hit by the giant asteroid Apophis when it zips on by the planet in 2029 and returns in 2036, NASA announced on Thursday. Scientists originally believed that the asteroid, which is three and a half football fields in size, would strike Earth in 2036.
According to Space.com, Apophis was discovered in June 2004, when it gained notoriety after a study suggested it had a 2.7 percent chance of hitting Earth in 2029. While further studies dismissed the idea of a 2029 crash, scientists remained unsure of its 2036 passing until now.
New observations of the giant asteroid during a distant 9.3 million miles flyby revealed that Apophis does not pose a risk to Earth in 2036 and that the chances of it crashing into Earth that year are less than one in a million. The conclusions were made on a Wednesday, January 9 flyby and from a data provided by the Magdalena Ridge (New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology) and Pan-STARRS (University of Hawaii) optical observatories.
Don Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office, said in a statement, "The impact odds as they stand now are less than one in a million, which makes us comfortable saying we can effectively rule out an Earth impact in 2036." He added, "Our interest in asteroid Apophis will essentially be for its scientific interest for the foreseeable future."
The giant asteroid is expected to fly past Earth on April 13, 2029 and come within 19,400 miles of the planet, NASA announced. According to Space.com, that distance is closer than some geostationary satellites and will be the closest flyby by an asteroid of that size in recorded history.
New observations by the European Space Agency revealed that the asteroid Apophis is about 1,066 feet wide, close to 20 perfect larger than previously thought (885 feet). ESA officials also announced that the space rock is about 75 percent more massive than past estimates.
Yeoman added, "But much sooner, a closer approach by a lesser-known asteroid is going to occur in the middle of next month when a 40-meter-sized asteroid, 2012 DA14, flies safely past Earth's surface at about 17,200 miles. With new telescopes coming online, the upgrade of existing telescopes and the continued refinement of our orbital determination process, there's never a dull moment working on near-Earth objects."