You can now sleep easy. The threat of the asteroid Apophis hitting our planet has been officially downgraded today. If the 1-in-45,000 odds of Apophis hitting Earth in 2036 weren’t slight enough, then how about a tiny 1-in-250,000 chance?
In other words, the 250 meter-wide piece of space rock has gone from an unlikely 0.003% chance to a vanishingly small 0.0004% chance of hitting Earth. Would you be comfortable with putting money on either one of those odds? I know I wouldn’t, but there has been some low-key concern that the near-Earth asteroid (or NEO for short) could be a potential doomsday asteroid, slamming into Earth in 27 years time. But fear not, the chances of that happening has shrunk, by a whole order of magnitude.
This announcement comes from Puerto Rico during a meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences, where Dave Tholen and collaborators from the University of Hawai’i presented their refined measurements of the asteroid’s path through the Solar System, even after the NEO passes Earth in 2029 (at a distance of 18,400 miles or 30,000 km).
“Apophis has been one of those celestial bodies that has captured the public’s interest since it was discovered in 2004,” said Steve Chesley from the Near Earth Object Program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory about this new finding. “Updated computational techniques and newly available data indicate the probability of an Earth encounter on April 13, 2036, for Apophis has dropped from one-in-45,000 to about four-in-a million.”
“It wasn’t anything to worry about before. Now it’s even less so,” Chesley added.
But what about future encounters? Tholen’s group have even calculated the chances of an impact during the 2068 Apophis pass… and there’s no need to worry about that either. The chance of a 2068 impact is approximately three-in-a-million.
Really, you can sleep easy now. Apophis has become a very (very) unlikely doomsday candidate.
Image: Asteroid Apophis, when it was discovered on June 19, 2004 (NASA/UH/IA)