Earlier this week, astronomers with the European Space Agency (ESA) announced that they were collecting data on the asteroid Apophis as it made its most recent approach to Earth. The data was, among other things, meant to narrow the prediction as to whether the asteroid might impact the Earth in 2036.
Now, NASA has announced that Apophis will not be a threat to humanity in 2036. The asteroid will still make a close flyby of Earth, but it will not be impacting the planet or otherwise heralding "doomsday."
"With the new data provided by the Magdalena Ridge [New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology] and the Pan-STARRS [University of Hawaii] optical observatories, along with very recent data provided by the Goldstone Solar System Radar, we have effectively ruled out the possibility of an Earth impact by Apophis in 2036," said Don Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). "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. Our interest in asteroid Apophis will essentially be for its scientific interest for the foreseeable future."
When Apophis was discovered in 2004 initial calculations gave it a 2.7% chance of impacting the Earth in 2029. Subsequent observations ruled out an impact in that year, and this new announcement means Apophis is harmless for the foreseeable future. In 2036 Apophis will come within 31,300 kilometers (19,400) of Earth - around one-twelfth the distance between Earth and the moon.
"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," said Yeomans. "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."
(Image courtesy UH/IA)