NASA: Passing 'doomsday asteroid' no threat

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NASA: Passing 'doomsday asteroid' no threat

Asteroid Apophis, while larger in diameter than originally thought, passed by Earth Wednesday night. It will return in 2029 and 2036.

A “doomsday asteroid” passing close by Earth today is more bark than bite, according to NASA.

Asteroid Apophis will come within 9 million miles of Earth, but presents absolutely no threat, NASA spokesman Dwayne Brown said. “It will pass safely by,” he said.

Watch Apophis live as it passes by tonight at 7 p.m. EST

Browne said the asteroid will still be watched closely by NASA. Apophis could give scientists crucial information about its trajectory during its next two passes, in 2029 and 2036, as well as insight into the wider universe.

Toward that end, Browne said NASA will take radar images of Apophis tonight. It also plans to launch a mission in 2016 to land on and collect samples from an asteroid.

“We’re learning more about what the universe is made of,” Browne said. He said studying asteroids is, for the scientific community, “like mining gold” because the objects contain bits and pieces from the beginnings of the universe.

Apophis is no stranger to media attention. The asteroid made news in 2004 when NASA announced it had detected the object and that the odds of an impact in 2029 were 1 in 300. Later that year, NASA changed the odds to a frightening 1 in 45.

While that threat has been ruled out, scientists’ estimates of the size of the asteroid have grown. Thomas Muller of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany, said in a statement that Apophis, originally believed to be about 885 feet in diameter, is 20 percent larger than that.

According to the statement, that “translates into a 75 percent increase in our estimates of the asteroid’s volume or mass.” Apophis is now believed to be about 1,066 feet wide, according to SPACE.com.

Apophis is not the only close encounter we will see this year. Browne said another asteroid is coming even closer on Feb. 15, but again poses no threat.

See the asteroid yourself at NASA’s Near Earth Object Program

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