Wednesday flyby lets NASA rule out future asteroid impact

When Asteroid Apophis skimmed past Earth Wednesday, NASA scientists got a good enough look at it to rule out a collision in 2036.

Wednesday’s close encounter with Asteroid Apophis showed scientists the chunk of space rock is bigger than previously thought, but not badder.

The asteroid came within 9 million miles of Earth, giving scientists an opportunity to learn more about its trajectory. Apophis, which is the size of three-and-a-half football fields, will be back in 2029 and 2036 in the course of its orbit. It is expected to get even closer in 2036, prompting concerns about a collision with Earth, but those fears passed Wednesday with the asteroid itself.

NASA scientists “effectively have ruled out the possibility the asteroid Apophis will impact Earth during a close flyby in 2036,” NASA said Thursday in a press release. It gave the asteroid less than one in a million odds of hitting the Earth in 2036.

The asteroid is also expected to come “unusually close” in 2029, but Goldstone radar observations have ruled out the odds of an impact.

The most recent data about the asteroid was provided by Goldstone, NASA’s solar system radar.

Wednesday, NASA spokesman Dwayne Brown said the agency would be taking radar images of Apophis and that the passing of the asteroid “gives us even more data to track its trajectory in the future.”

Apophis was first discovered in 2004 and dubbed the “doomsday asteroid” after initial calculations gave it about a 3 percent chance of hitting Earth in 2029. Though that dire scenario has been ruled out, the asteroid should still make history in 2029. Then, it is predicted to fly about 19,400 miles above Earth’s surface, the closest approach of any asteroid of its size.

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