‘God of Chaos’ asteroid Apophis won’t be crashing into Earth for at least another century
- New observations have been able to determine that the ‘God of Chaos’ asteroid Apophis won’t be crashing into Earth for at least another 100 years.
- This officially rules out all doomsday predictions of Apophis breaching the Earth’s atmosphere in 2029, 2036 and in 2068.
- The asteroid is as big as three football fields and the resulting impact, if it were to crash into Earth, would be equivalent to 880 million tonnes of TNT exploding.
Many in the scientific community believe that it’s only a matter of time before a massive asteroid hits Earth. “A big rock will hit Earth eventually and we currently have no defence,” said billionaire Elon Musk, commenting on the Apophis asteroid.
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While that may still be a possibility, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has at least narrowed down the possibility that the ‘big rock to hit Earth’ won’t be Apophis — not in 2029, 2036 or even 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,” said Davide Farnocchai of NASA’s Centre for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS).
What would happen if Apophis crashed into Earth?
It’s not uncommon for small asteroids between the size of five to ten metres to pose a threat as they make their close approach to Earth, but asteroids the size of Apophis — as big as three football fields — are rare.
The potential impact would be the equivalent of 880 million tonnes of trinitrotoluene (TNT) exploding simultaneously. This would make it 65,000 times more destructive than the Hiroshima nuclear disaster.
Eliminating the doomsday prediction
Apophis was determined to be under the influence of the Yarkovsky effect in October 2020, by the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy.
Simply put, it meant Apophis was getting pushed around by sunlight and speeding up in approach towards Earth. This made its orbit difficult to predict, increasing the likelihood of it crashing into Earth in 2068.
In order to figure out whether the threat of a collision was real, JPL’s researchers decided to conduct a detailed analysis — using a new radar observation campaign coupled with a precise orbit analysis — of Apophis when the massive asteroid made a distant flyby of Earth on March 5.
Tracking the asteroid with Deep Space Network’s 70-metre radio antenna and the 100-metre Green Bank Telescope, the scientists were able to capture Apophis on camera.
The images may appear pixelated, but considering that the asteroid was 17 million kilometres away — more than 44 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon — it’s an incredible accomplishment.
“If we had binoculars as powerful as this radar, we would be able to sit in Los Angeles and read a dinner menu at a restaurant in New York.” said JPL scientist Marina Brozovic, who led the radar campaign.
AdvertisementUsing these images, not only did JPL rule out the possibility of Apophis hitting Earth in 2068 but it was also able to determine that the asteroid has a ‘bilobed’ or peanut-like appearance. According to NASA, this is a relatively common shape for big space rocks — larger than 200 metres in diameter — that fly by the planet. At least one in every six asteroids has two lobes.
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