In October of last year, it was reported that asteroid Apophis (nicknamed the “God of Chaos”) was picking up speed and may end up crashing into Earth in the year 2068. This was quite concerning as the asteroid measures over 1,100 feet in width (335 meters) and would have caused a catastrophic impact equivalent of 880 million tons of TNT.
But now, according to new orbit analysis and calculations, NASA has stated that the asteroid will not hit Earth in 2068 and it won’t impact our planet for at least a hundred years. It will pass by us at a fairly close range in 2029 and 2036 but with no possibility of an impact. In fact, on April 13, 2029, Apophis will travel by us at a distance of less than 20,000 miles (32,000 kilometers). Those living in the Eastern Hemisphere will be able to observe the asteroid with the naked eye and astronomers will have an excellent opportunity of studying it in greater detail.
Astronomers confirmed these new calculations when Apophis recently flew by us. They used strong radar observations in order to determine its orbit around the sun and that’s how they were able to say with confidence that it won’t pose any type of threat to us for at least a century.
Davide Farnocchia, who is from NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) which is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California, reiterated this by stating, “A 2068 impact is not in the realm of possibility anymore, and our calculations don’t show any impact risk for at least the next 100 years,” adding, “With the support of recent optical observations and additional radar observations, the uncertainty in Apophis’ orbit has collapsed from hundreds of kilometers to just a handful of kilometers when projected to 2029. This greatly improved knowledge of its position in 2029 provides more certainty of its future motion, so we can now remove Apophis from the risk list.”
As for the equipment they used to make these new calculations, astronomers used the 70-meter (230-foot) radio antenna at the Deep Space Network’s Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California to track the asteroid’s orbit. JPL scientist Marina Brozovic explained this further, “Although Apophis made a recent close approach with Earth, it was still nearly 10.6 million miles [17 million kilometers] away. Even so, we were able to acquire incredibly precise information about its distance to an accuracy of about 150 meters [490 feet].”
With the new calculations confirmed, astronomers are now hoping that their data will reveal the true shape of Apophis as it’s currently unclear what it actually looks like although previous radar observations have indicated that it has a “bilobed” or “peanut-like” shape.
They’re also looking at the asteroid’s rotation rate and axis in order to figure out what kind of effect our planet’s gravitational field will have on it when it passes by us in 2029.
A simulation depicting Apophis’ 2029 approach to Earth can be seen here.