Apophis Who? As the foreboding asteroid 99942 Apophis tumbled through interplanetary space, making its closest pass with Earth yesterday, astronomers pointed every available telescope at the space rock in the hope of learning more about the potentially hazardous asteroid. Using NASA’s Goldstone radar dish in the Mojave Desert, Calif., asteroid hunters have announced some really, really good news: Apophis will not — I repeat, will not — hit Earth in 2036.
“Goldstone single-pixel observations of Apophis have ruled out the potential 2036 Earth impact,” says Jon Giorgini, a dynamicist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Sure, the odds of being hit by the 325 meter-wide interplanetary interloper were vanishingly small, but it’s always nice to be given the “all clear.” This news comes hot on the heels of new infrared observations of Apophis by the European Herschel Space Observatory that studied Apophis’ heat signature over the weekend. These new data suggest the asteroid is in fact 20 percent bigger than thought. Mapping the head distribution and analyzing the object’s albedo will help refine asteroid trajectory models. For more on the Herschel results, read “Asteroid Apophis Just Got Supersized“
Image: Herschel’s infrared view of Apophis. Credit: ESA/Herschel/PACS/MACH-11/MPE/B.Altieri (ESAC) and C. Kiss (Konkoly Observatory)