NASA Confirms Earth Is Safe from "God of Chaos" Asteroid for the Next 100 Years
The agency announced on Thursday that asteroid 99942 Apophis, which was identified in 2004, will not pose a risk to Earth for at least 100 years. When it was first discovered, scientists flagged Apophis—a name derived from the Egyptian god of chaos and destruction—as one of the most hazardous asteroids that could impact the planet in the future.
Astronomers first predicted that Apophis could come within a close distance to Earth in 2029, with another anxiety-inducing flyby scheduled for 2036. Potential impacts on those dates were eventually ruled out, but it wasn't until this month that NASA could definitively say Earth would be safe from the asteroid in the year 2068.
"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," Davide Farnocchia of NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies said in a statement. The Center for Near-Earth Object Studies is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
"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," Farnocchia continued. "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."
According to NASA, Apophis is a relic of the solar system's early formation more than 4 billion years ago and originated in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It's estimated to be 1,120 feet long—about the size of three-and-a-half football fields—and would undoubtedly cause massive amounts of destruction if it hit Earth.
In a report cited by NPR, an impact from an asteroid of Apophis' size could kill 10 million people.
While Apophis won't hit Earth when it approaches on April 13, 2029, NASA said it will be visible to residents in the Eastern Hemisphere without the aid of a telescope or binoculars. At that point, the asteroid will be about 20,000 miles from Earth (for reference, the Moon is about 238,900 miles from Earth).
Farnocchia said he is excited to continue studying Apophis with the added comfort that it poses no threat to Earth for now.
"When I started working with asteroids after college, Apophis was the poster child for hazardous asteroids," Farnocchia said in the statement.
"There's a certain sense of satisfaction to see it removed from the risk list," he added, "and we're looking forward to the science we might uncover during its close approach in 2029."