Many asteroids are floating around in space that NASA and other organizations are tracking. One of those asteroids is about the size of the Eiffel Tower and is called Apophis. Scientists recently said that they couldn’t rule out that Apophis might impact the Earth in 2068.
Scientists at the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy announced that they had discovered a phenomenon called Yarkovsky acceleration on the asteroid. This type of acceleration comes from an extremely weak force on an object caused by non-uniform thermal radiation. That’s a complicated way of saying that sunlight is changing the asteroid’s path over time.
In the past, scientists didn’t believe that an impact scenario with the Earth was likely. However, the new observations indicate the asteroid is drifting away from a purely gravitational orbit by approximately 170 meters per year. That amount of drift is enough to keep the potential for an impact with Earth as a possibility.
Scientists have been observing Apophis since 2004, and back in 2013, scientists announced that the asteroid wouldn’t impact the earth in 2036. Fears had previously thought there was a chance of impact in 2029, but that has been ruled out. Interestingly, Apophis will come close to the earth on Friday, April 13, 2029, at a distance that would make it visible with the naked eye.
When that happens, astronomers will observe the future trajectory of the asteroid and hone in on the potential for an impact in 2068. Scientists have been working for a long time on ways to deal with any potentially hazardous asteroid. The NASA DART mission will crash a spacecraft into an asteroid’s mood to nudge it to see if that could be used to prevent any potential impacts in the future. Researchers point out that there’s no reason to worry about a potential impact in 2068 at this time. They say they will know well before that date if an impact will happen.