According to new observations from NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), the asteroid Apophis will not collide with Earth in 2068. In this way, the risk of impact of the huge asteroid with our planet is diluted for at least a century.
There really are reasons to celebrate this news: if it hit the expected speed of 12.6 kilometers per second, the violent encounter with the Earth of a monster measuring 340 meters in diameter and weighing 60 million tons would generate an energy flow equivalent to 1200 megatons.
Previous scientific studies have determined that an asteroid the size of Apophis would have a chance of impacting Earth once every 80,000 years. It seems like an isolated event in time, but its consequences can be truly apocalyptic.
The collision would literally “flatten” thousands of square kilometers and wipe an entire city off the map in an instant. At the same time, collateral damage would occur across the planet. If it fell into the ocean, Apophis would generate tsunamis of unusual force.
According to a Press release, a new study based on radar observations and orbit analysis has ruled out the possibilities of collision for 2068. Possible impacts in 2029 and 2036 had previously been ruled out, as part of the constant monitoring that the US space agency does on this asteroid, considered one of the greatest threats to Earth.
An always latent risk
Discovered in 2004, Apophis raised concern in the international astronomical community when initial observations indicated probabilities of a collision with our planet in 2029. However, additional studies ruled out this possibility.
Despite this, the tranquility did not last long: until 2006 the threat of an impact in 2036 remained, due to the transit of the asteroid through a gravitational keyhole. Passing through this mysterious region of the Universe during its approach to Earth in 2029, a future impact would be set exactly seven years later, in 2036.
But in August 2006 the probability of gravitational keyhole transit was determined to be negligible, thus Apophis ceased to be a threat by 2036.
It is worth remembering that astronomers call a gravitational keyhole a small region of the cosmos where the gravity of a planet would alter the orbit of a asteroid that crosses that area, establishing that it would collide with said planet in a future orbital transit.
More certainties about the orbit of Apophis
Although the two previous collision threats were dismissed, until now there was still a small possibility of impact in 2068. According to Davide Farnocchia, NASA’s CNEOS specialist, “an impact in 2068 is no longer in the realm of possibility, and our calculations do not show any risk of collision with Earth for at least the next 100 years, “he said.
The scientists’ certainty is based on the remarkable decrease in uncertainty regarding the orbit of Apophis, which has shrunk from hundreds of kilometers to just a handful of kilometers. This was achieved from recent optical observations and additional radar studies.
The new measurements were made when Apophis made a distant flyby of Earth around March 5 of this year: astronomers took the opportunity to improve the estimate of its orbit around the Sun. Greater precision in the data allowed them to rule out any risk. of impact in 2068.
“This vastly improved knowledge of its position in 2029 provides more certainty of its future move, therefore we can now remove Apophis from the risk list for a long time,” concluded Farnocchia.
ESA’s Herschel Space Observatory captured the asteroid Apophis in its field of view during its approach to Earth on January 5 and 6, 2013. This image shows Apophis at three wavelengths: 70, 100 and 160 microns, respectively. . Credit: ESA / Herschel / PACS / MACH-11 / MPE / B.Altieri (ESAC) and C. Kiss (Konkoly Observatory).
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.