When Apophis was discovered in 2004, the risk of impact in 2029 was estimated at close to 3%. Luckily for us humans, a new study in 2013 showed that there is a 0% chance Apophis will impact the Earth during it’s next pass in 2029, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be an interesting.
On April 13th, 2029 (Friday the 13th), the asteroid Apophis will zoom by Earth at an incredibly close range of 19,400 miles. In fact, it’s estimated that it will be the largest asteroid to come this close to Earth since humans have been surveying the skies. To further illustrate how close this is, I’ve made a graphic to show the distance in relation to other well-known objects.
In early 2013, the Herschel space observatory in Europe was able to obtain valuable data on the asteroid during it’s last close approach until it returns in 2029.
The first thing scientists noticed was that it’s bigger than they anticipated. The width of Apophis came in at an estimated 325 meters (1066 feet) give or take 15 meters. This constitutes a 20% increase in the expected length, and a 75% increase in the overall mass. For an asteroid that will continually cross into our orbit, this isn’t great news.
The good news is that it will not impact Earth in 2029. Take a look at this diagram showing the path of Apophis in 2029 and the margin of error.
While this may seem to indicate that we’re off the hook, the reality is that Apophis may still be able to cause a little havoc after all. Apophis will enter Earths orbit, which means it will be flying directly through an increasingly crowded field of geosynchronous satellites. Nobody can say for sure how much (if any) damage it will inflict, but check out this next diagram to see the expected path in relation to our orbit.
While the 2029 event is all but certain, the fact that it will enter our gravitational field means that it’s flight will be affected. This makes predicting the future encounters a little less certain. What will happen in 2036 and future encounters?
For more information on asteroid Apophis, check out these posts for the most up-to-date answers…