Another potentially dangerous asteroid is expected to skim by our planet in the future.
In just 13 years – on Friday April 13th 2929 to be precise – asteroid Apophis will pass us as close as 18,300 miles away, inside the orbit of geosynchronous satellites which follow Earth’s orbit.
It is set to be right over the Mid-Atlantic states of the USA and will be so near you can watch it zoom past without a telescope.
A NASA report said it would appear: “To the naked eye as a moderately bright point of light moving rapidly across the sky. Depending on its mechanical nature, it could experience shape or spin-state alteration due to tidal forces caused by Earth’s gravity field.”
The closest estimate is it will pass less than a tenth of the distance between us and the Moon.
The pass is so close that at one stage NASA feared the gravitational pull of the Earth could draw it one for a possible direct hit seven years later in 2036.
The US space agency even considered the risk of the mega rock wiping out satellites and the need for sending up a spacecraft in advance to make closer observations.
A previous NASA report said: “It can’t be known for certain it will impact until during or after the 2029 encounter, even if a spacecraft is accompanying Apophis and providing position measurements good to two meters.”
Yet, further radar observations in 2013 pretty much ruled out a 2029 or 2036 strike, but this hasn’t stopped doomsday stories of a potential earth-changing strike by Apophis in just 20 years going viral online.
The spread of the story has seen seasoned astronomers speak out to allay fears after a series of reports suggested the asteroid Apophis was on course for a direct hit of the planet in 2036.
The space rock is 325 metres across and it is big enough to devastate a whole region or small country should it hit.
The doom mongering centres around fears of around three years ago that there was a slim chance of Apophis hitting us in 2036.
It was based around a theory sparked by a cosmically try close pass of the asteroid in 2026, when it will skim Earth by just 23,000 miles, a mere whisker in terms of the solar system and just a tenth of the distance from our planet to the Moon.
But it appears a theory, that if during the 2029 close pass it passed through a “keyhole” it may be pulled on course for collision in 2036, was since ruled out.
However, that hasn’t stopped the story resurfacing on various websites and social media, claiming it may still land.
So much so that astronomer Phil Plait, who writes the Bad Astronomy blog, and is an expert on asteroids was forced to speak out.
He said concerned people had emailed him asking what was going on after reading recent reports across various media.
In a posting entitled “Will the Asteroid Apophis hit Earth in 2036? No Seriously, No,”
Mr Plait wrote: “In fact, the cumulative chance it will hit us in the next century is less than 1 in 100,000. In other words, we’re safe.”
He said: “Apophis was discovered in 2004, and after a few observations it was determined that it would make a very close approach to Earth in 2029, even closer to us than orbiting geosynchronous satellites.”
He explained that it was later found the 2029 pass was so close, Earth’s gravity could strongly affect the asteroid’s orbit.
He added: “If it passed at just the right distance, its trajectory would be changed by just the right amount to bring it back to Earth in 2036…and possibly impact us.
“The asteroid would have to pass through a very narrow volume of space near the Earth called a “keyhole”.
“If it got it just right, drilled right through the keyhole, then seven years later: bang.
“That’s a problem. Apophis is about 325 meters across, and so massive that were it to hit, it would release the energy equivalent to more than 1 billion tons of TNT exploding, at least 20 times more than the largest nuke ever detonated!”
But Mr Plait said since this research newer radar observations of the rock had been able to better determine its orbit.
“In 2013 radar observations, which are extremely accurate, ruled out a keyhole shot in 2029. That means that in 2036, Apophis will miss us by more than 20 million kilometres (50 times the distance of the Moon). We’re completely safe.”
The astronomer said that new reports reviving the fears were relying on comments from NASA experts back in 2011, when the potential for the 2036 impact still existed.
So there is still a one in 100,000 chance of a direct hit in 2036 – similar to the odds of death if a person did a skydive apparently.
What is clear is NASA will be keeping an extra close eye on the hair-raising pass of 2029 to make sure its current calculations for 2036 are spot on.