Thursday, March 10, 2011

Asteroid Apophis: Probably Won't Hit Earth in 2036 or 2068

"Tracking Asteroid Apophis: New Photos Catch Potentially Dangerous Space Rock" (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:

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