Space.com (March 10, 2011)
"Astronomers tracking the potentially dangerous asteroid Apophis made a major breakthrough in January, snapping the first pictures of the space rock in more than three years, researchers announced yesterday (March 9).
"Using a telescope atop the dormant Hawaiian volcano Mauna Kea, astronomers snapped a series of photos on Jan. 31 as Apophis emerged from behind the sun. Of all known space rocks, the 900-foot-wide (270-meter) Apophis is perhaps the one most often cited as a potential candidate for impacting Earth sometime in the next few decades.
"Apophis became famous in 2004, when it appeared to have a 1-in-37 chance of smashing into Earth in April 2029. Additional data and further analysis, however, eventually revealed that the odds of an impact then are actually much smaller — about 1-in-250,000...."
The photo isn't the sort of stunning image we've gotten used to from Hubble and the robots we've sent to explore the Solar system. From a technical standpoint, the Lemming thinks it's impressive, though. And that's another topic.
The Lemming isn't all that concerned about Apophis, or any other particular asteroid. The odds of any one orbiting mountain hitting Earth in the next few thousand years is pretty small.
On the other hand, the odds are pretty good that one or more asteroids or comets will cross Earth's path in the next few decades - or centuries - or weeks.
We don't know of anything a few hundred feet across that's going to give, say, London or Beijing, instant urban renewal by the end of the month: but astronomers are still working at cataloging every bit of stuff that orbits our star. There could be a surprise headed our way.
The Lemming has discussed asteroids and what we can do about them before:
- "Asteroid 1999 RQ36 Won't Hit Earth in 2182: Probably"
(July 30, 2010)
- "Proposed Commission for Planetary Defense: H.R. 5587 Makes Sense"
(July 20, 2010)
- "Asteroids and Earth: Time for the Space Patrol?"
(May 2, 2010)
- "Asteroid 99942 Apophis: Radical Waves in 2036?"
(December 31, 2009)
- "Asteroid Threat: Good News, We Have the Technology; Bad News - "
(April 28, 2009)