Asteroid Apophis on its way to Earth

Asteroid Apophis is followed with a camera in a series of five photos as it moves against a background of stars. The rings in the upper left are from a dust grain on the telescope instrument. (Credit: D. Tholen, M. Micheli, G. Elliott, UH Institute for Astronomy)

Astronomers are keeping an eye on asteroid Apophis, which was recently caught in a series of photos made from a telescope on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea mountaintop observatory. In April of 2029 the orbit of the 900-ft space rock will bring it closer to Earth than some of our satellites, but a collision with either the Earth or the Moon has been ruled out. There is a very slight chance that the flyby in 2029 could put it on a collision course with Earth in 2036, but the odds of a collision are deemed quite small — about 1 in 250,000. Apophis will come close to Earth two more times in the 21st century, again with small probabilities of actually making an impact.

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6 thoughts on “Asteroid Apophis on its way to Earth

  1. Not soon, Amber. But the probability that Earth will be hit again someday is 100%. Whether that’s 100 years or a million years from now is uncertain.

    There are at least two programs I’m aware of that are being developed by NASA to deflect asteroids before they become a serious threat to Earth — I think the chances are good that we will have the technology in place before an asteroid hits us.

  2. “Possible, but unlikely.”

    Famous last words :)

    How are we going to shoo wayward asteroids away from the Earth? Stern lectures? Playing Armageddon? I’d stay away if I had to watch that movie again!

  3. Just going by the statistics of how often the Earth has been struck by big objects in the past, it’s not likely to happen any time soon. But beyond that, intensive monitoring programs can project the orbits of large NEOs 100 years into the future. It seems unlikely to me that these programs would miss a potentially Earth-crunching object close enough to hit us even in the next 10 years. It’s possible, but very unlikely. Much more likely is an impact by a much smaller body, like the 30-40 meter meteor that hit the Tunguska region in Russia a hundred years ago. It would certainly be damaging to anyone who lived within several hundred square miles of the impact, but not devastating to the Earth.

    In the event that I’m wrong, then like you said, we’ll beam Ben Affleck and that annoying Aerosmith song at anything that gets too close, and that ought to do the trick.

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