Asteroid in 2040 Will Miss the Earth, Just Barely

    December 27, 2012

An asteroid discovered just last year and given tentative 1 in 500 odds of hitting the Earth in February 2040 is now no longer a danger to the planet, according to astronomers.

Data gathered using the Gemini North telescope in Mauna Kea, Hawaii has confirmed that asteroid 2011 AG5 will not be slamming into Earth. Astronomers at the University of Hawaii and NASA‘s Near-Earth Object Program (Spaceguard) were able to refine their calculations of the asteroid’s trajectory using the data.

“These were extremely difficult observations of a very faint object,” said Richard Wainscoat, a Gemini team member. “We were surprised by how easily the Gemini telescope was able to recover such a faint asteroid so low in the sky.”

2011 AG5 is 140 meters in diameter – around the length of two American football fields. If the asteroid were to hit the Earth, it would release around 100 megatons of energy, which is thousands of times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II.

The discovery of 2011 AG5 was made by NASA’s Catalina Sky Survey. Original estimates gave the object a 0.2% chance of colliding with the Earth. A NASA contingency deflection analysis was conducted prior to the new data, showing a 95% likelihood of new data eliminating the asteroid as a threat. The agency stated that its experience studying 2011 AG5 demonstrates that it is “well situated” to predict the trajectories of asteroids that threaten the Earth.