“Doomsday asteroid” Apophis flew by the Earth on Wednesday, and while there was no chance of a collision this time, for some time, scientists have been worried that the asteroid could hit Earth when it swings by again in 2029 and 2036. Now, after Wednesday’s close encounter, scientists at NASA have ruled out any significant chance of an impact by Asteroid Apophis.
Apophis was discovered in 2004 by NASA scientists who concluded there was about a 2.7 percent chance of the asteroid colliding with Earth when it comes near in 2029. While this was eventually ruled out, astronomers believed there was a still a chance at a 2036 impact.
After the asteroid’s close flyby on Wednesday, however, NASA scientists have announced that there is less than a one-in-a-million chance of the “doomsday asteroid” hitting the Earth on its 2036 flyby.
Space.com notes that Asteroid Apophis is 325 meters long, roughly the size of three and a half football fields. This means it would cause significant damage in the event of a collision with Earth. Luckily for every living thing on the planet, this won’t be happening any time soon.
"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,” Don Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office, said in a statement. "Our interest in asteroid Apophis will essentially be for its scientific interest for the foreseeable future.”
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While Asteroid Apophis was quite far from Earth on Wedensday night – roughly 9.3 million miles – it will be much closer on its next flyby in 2029. Space.com notes that in 2029, the asteroid will be only 19,000 miles away from the surface of the Earth -- a shorter distance than the Equator.
While that may seem incredibly close, other, much smaller asteroids are due to come even closer in the coming years.
"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."
For more information about Asteroid Apophis, watch a Space.com video on the “doomsday asteroid” below.