The asteroid Apophis should not cause any problems for Earth anytime soon. In a statement released on Friday (26), NASA ruled out any chance that the gigantic space rock would collide with the planet in 2068 and guaranteed that there is no risk of falling for the next 100 years.
The good news was given after astronomers conducted a more detailed analysis of the orbit of the celestial body during the most recent Apophis approach, which took place in early March. The observation allowed us to redo the calculations of the chances of impact.
Discovered in 2004, asteroid 99942 is named after the Egyptian god of chaos and darkness because of the danger it poses to the planet. Early calculations indicated a chance of a collision with Earth in 2029, later discarded by scientists.
Additional observations of the object, which is about 340 meters in diameter, pointed to a dangerous approach in 2036, later modified to 2068. This last chance of impact was considered until the beginning of the month, when a closer look brought new perspectives, eliminating the fall possibilities in the 21st century.
Keeping an eye on Apophis
Passing “close” to Earth on March 5, reaching 17 million kilometers away, Apophis provided a good opportunity to study it. In the absence of the Arecibo Observatory, which collapsed last December, a 70-meter radio antenna from the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California was used.
Astronomers also used the Green Bank Observatory radio telescope in West Virginia for this campaign, for which the images generated by the Californian equipment were transmitted. Although they look pixelated, the photos have a resolution of 38.75 meters per pixel, considered by the space agency as “remarkable”, due to the distance from the asteroid.
Despite the distance from the object, the work allowed obtaining valuable data for astronomy. “This campaign not only helped us to rule out any risk of impact, but it also prepared us for a wonderful scientific opportunity,” revealed Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) scientist Marina Brozovic, who led the observation.
With the new radar data, astronomers also hope to learn more about the shape of Apophis and its rate of rotation. Previous studies suggest that it has a peanut shape and two lobes, a common appearance among asteroids close to Earth and more than 200 meters in diameter.
Observation with the naked eye
Also known as the “doomsday asteroid”, Apophis will give scientists and mankind a great chance of observation at the end of this decade. On April 13, 2029, it will pass 32,000 kilometers away from the Earth’s surface, below geosynchronous satellites.
In this approach (see animation below), the space rock will be visible to observers in the eastern hemisphere without the need to use a telescope or even binoculars, representing an unprecedented opportunity for astronomers.
And as we now know that the celestial body does not offer immediate danger to the Earth, even with such a close flyby, researchers will be able to enjoy the observation without any concern.
“An impact in 2068 is no longer in the realm of possibility, and our calculations do not show any risk of impact for at least the next 100 years,” said Davide Farnocchia, an expert at the Center for the Study of Near-Earth Objects (CNEOS).