In space, objects move at untold speeds through solar systems and galaxies. In our own solar system, thousands of objects soar through the void of space. Surprisingly, these objects never collide with Earth; that is, until 2029.
In 2004, scientists discovered an asteroid about the size of three football fields speeding toward Earth. Panic began to set in as the asteroid, named 99942 Apophis, had a probability of colliding with Earth. But before the conspiracy theorists began digging bunkers in their backyards, scientists found the probability of 99942 Apophis hitting Earth to be a whopping 2.7%.
Then, in 2006, new information revealed that the asteroid will have no chance of hitting Earth when it flies by in 2029. However, there may still be cause for concern. The path of the asteroid takes it closer to Earth than any other extraterrestrial object has been within the past 800 years. Apophis will come between the Moon and Earth at only 22,000 miles from Earth (whereas the moon is 238,900 miles from Earth). This will be the closest any asteroid the size of Apophis has come near Earth in recorded history.
If you happen to be on the side of the planet Apophis passes, there may be a chance that you can see the object with the naked eye. If you are unlucky enough to be on the other side of the planet, you will miss out on its arrival to Earth.
But here is where things get a little strange. Apophis will pass Earth twice in the next 18 years: first in 2029 and the next in 2036. It will not come by our corner of the solar system neighborhood until 2060, with the closest being its flyby in 2029. However, surprisingly, both trips in 2029 and 2036 will occur on April 13th. One of which, the 2029 occurrence, will be on Friday the 13th (spooky). Thankfully, the trip of Apophis by Earth in 2036 (this time a safe 35 million miles away) will be on a Sunday. There was, at one point, a chance that Apophis could hit a “keyhole” in its orbit in 2029 and come back around and hit Earth in 2036. However, most scientists believe that there is no realistic chance that this will happen, but there is still technically a chance.
So what would happen if Apophis did connect with Earth?
Apophis is 450 meters high, making it taller than the Empire State Building. The blast of an asteroid that size connecting with Earth in, say, New York City would destroy everything within a radius of around 14 miles. That would take out ⅘ of all New York. Then buildings within another 6.5-mile radius would be stripped to their foundations. That’s a big hit.
Even with scientists saying that the chances of this would be similar to the chances of winning the lottery, let us remember that people do win the lottery. Realistically, there is nothing to be afraid of, though the jury is still out on the passage of 99942 Apophis in 2060, which will hopefully be in our lifetimes. Will this asteroid ever collide with Earth? We will have to wait and see.
*written by Brennan Kress