‘Zero chance’ asteroid Apophis strikes Earth in 2029, astronomer declares

LONDON, Ontario — In an update that might reassure literally everyone on Earth, a new study is effectively debunking any speculation that the infamous asteroid Apophis will collide with our planet.

Initially discovered in 2004 and officially named asteroid 99942, Apophis quickly gained notoriety as one of the most hazardous asteroids in our solar system. This was due to its projected course and potential to strike Earth. However, as astronomers closely monitored its trajectory over the years, it’s now becoming evident that Apophis, stretching about 335 meters across, will safely bypass our planet.

The study, conducted by Western University astronomer Paul Wiegert and Benjamin Hyatt from the University of Waterloo, specifically investigated what might occur if Apophis’ orbit was altered by a collision with another asteroid. The conclusion? It won’t, the researchers claim. Wiegert and Hyatt find that such an event is highly improbable.

Apophis is particularly famous for its forthcoming close approaches to Earth, notably on April 13, 2029, when it is expected to skim past our planet at a relatively short distance of 37,399 kilometers. Apophis will pass by again in 2036. Despite the initial concerns, further studies have confirmed that these encounters will not pose any danger to Earth.

“We calculated the paths of all known asteroids using a detailed computer simulation of our Solar System and the possibility of such an unlikely event was evaluated,” says Wiegert, a physics & astronomy professor, in a media release. “Fortunately, no such collisions are anticipated.”

asteroid apophis
These images of asteroid Apophis were recorded by radio antennas at the Deep Space Network’s Goldstone complex in California and the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia on March 26, 2021. The asteroid was 17 million kilometers away and each pixel has a resolution of 38.75 meters. (NASA/JPL-Caltech and NSF/AUI/GBO image)

To arrive at their conclusion, Wiegert and Hyatt employed a detailed computer simulation to track the paths of all 1.3 million known asteroids within our solar system. They then looked at the theoretical scenario where Apophis might be deflected towards Earth following an impact with another of these asteroids. Simply put, could there be a pinball effect which knocks Apophis off its course so much, it goes spiraling into our planet?

“Given how closely Apophis will pass Earth, there is a possible risk that a deflection from its current trajectory may move Apophis closer to impacting us,” says Hyatt, an undergraduate student at Waterloo who assisted with this research over two summers. “Hypothetically, another asteroid colliding with Apophis could cause such a deflection, motivating us to study this scenario however unlikely it may be.”

Asteroid striking Earth
(© James Thew – stock.adobe.com)

Despite the possibility, their work couldn’t find a scenario where Apophis ends up smashing into the planet in a catastrophic event. Measuring roughly 1,100 feet in length, studies show that if Apophis did strike the Earth, it would spread destruction over several hundred kilometers. The energy released from such an impact would be similar to 1,000 megatons of TNT. Thankfully, scientists say Apophis is too small to cause global extinction.

“Asteroid Apophis has fascinated us as a species since its discovery in 2004: it was the first credible threat from an asteroid to our planet,” concludes Wiegert, a member of the Institute for Earth and Space Exploration. “Even now that we know it’s on course to miss us by a safe margin, astronomers remain vigilant. It’s the asteroid we just can’t stop watching.”

Apophis is named for the demon serpent, who personified evil and chaos in ancient Egyptian mythology.

The study has been accepted for publication in the Planetary Science Journal.

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