Scientists have been wringing their hands over the possibility of asteroid Apophis crashing into the planet, but new data from a distant flyby diminishes the chances of an Earth impact.
Earthlings can breathe a sigh of relief; NASA scientists have officially ruled out the possibility of the 22 million ton asteroid Apophis smashing into the planet in 2036.
"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," manager of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office Don Yeomans said in a statement. "Our interest in asteroid Apophis will essentially be for its scientific interest for the foreseeable future."
Apophis is still en route to come exceedingly close to Earth in 2029, however. According to NASA scientists, the asteroid will make history with the closest flyby of an asteroid its size when it grazes the planet's atmosphere at 19,400 miles above Earth's surface.
Initially, when discovered in 2004, scientists feared that Apophis would collide with the Earth in 2029. First calculations of the asteroid's orbit gave it a 2.7 percent chance of crashing into the planet. After new data discoveries in 2007, however, scientists ruled out the possibility of a 2029 collision scenario.
Still, the possibility of a 2036 impact remained. NASA scientists have been hard at work ever since trying to figure out the possibility of Apophis, which is the size of three-and-a-half football fields, hitting the Earth. Using information from both ground and space-based telescopes in 2011 and 2012, as well as data from the asteroid's distant flyby yesterday, they've finally concluded the planet is safe.
For those asteroid gazers, a lesser-known 131-foot asteroid called 2012 DA14 is expected to speed past the planet in the middle of February. This one could come as close as 17,200 miles above the Earth's surface.
"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," Yeomans said.