Earth is safe from the asteroid Apophis, a once feared asteroid that could have posed a risk for at least 100 years, said U.S. space agency NASA.
“The near-Earth object was thought to have a slight risk of impacting Earth in 2068, but now radar observations have ruled out that,” NASA said in an official statement earlier this week.
Apophis was discovered in 2004. Nicknamed asteroid 99942 Apophis, named after the ancient Egyptian god of chaos and darkness (via the BBC), had been identified as one of the “most dangerous asteroids likely to ‘have an impact on the Earth’.
However, a recent assessment changed the impact assessment calculations as astronomers tracked Apophis and its orbit was better determined, NASA said.
“A 2068 impact is no longer in the realm of possibilities, and our calculations show no risk of impact for at least the next 100 years,” said Davide Farnocchia of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at the NASA, which is operated by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
This is based on the results of a new radar observation campaign combined with “precise orbit analysis.”
The asteroid is estimated to be around 340 meters in diameter.
“Apophis quickly gained notoriety as an asteroid that could pose a serious threat to Earth when astronomers predicted it would approach uncomfortably close in 2029,” NASA said.
Although the risk of an impact in 2029 and the risk posed by another close-range approach in 2036 have been ruled out, until this month, however, there was still a small chance of impact in 2068.
The asteroid recently made a distant flyby of Earth around March 5.
Astronomers have exploited the approach to estimate its orbit around the Sun with great precision and using powerful radar observations. This allowed them to rule out any risk of impact in 2068 and long afterwards with confidence.
“With the support of recent optical observations and additional radar observations, the uncertainty in Apophis’ orbit has dropped from hundreds of kilometers to just a handful of kilometers when projected to 2029. This knowledge greatly improved from its position in 2029 gives more certainty on its future motion, so that we can now remove Apophis from the risk list, ”said Farnocchia.
The list of risks is the Sentry impact risk table maintained by CNEOS. It tracks the “few” asteroids whose orbits can bring them so close to Earth that an impact cannot be ruled out.
“Although Apophis recently made a close approach to Earth, it was still nearly 10.6 million kilometers [17 million kilometres] a way. Even so, we were able to acquire incredibly precise information about its distance with an accuracy of around 150 meters. [490 feet]JPL scientist Marina Brozovic said.
Apophis will pass within 32,000 kilometers of the Earth’s surface on April 13, 2029. During this time, it will be visible to ground observers in the Eastern Hemisphere without the aid of a telescope or binoculars. .
“It is also an unprecedented opportunity for astronomers to have a close-up view of a relic of the solar system which is no more than a scientific curiosity and not an immediate danger to our planet”, we read in the communicated.
“When I started working with asteroids after college, Apophis was the go-to kid for dangerous asteroids,” Farnocchia said. “There is a certain sense of satisfaction to see it taken off the risk list, and we look forward to any science we may uncover as it approaches closure in 2029.”