Asteroid: Expert explains how ‘Earth defence simulations' work

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After almost two decades of observations, scientists grew concerned that the 350-metre wide asteroid called Apophis – designated asteroid 99942 – could hit Earth in 2068. While there was less than a one percent chance it could hit, any impact would have been devastating for Earth.

However, NASA has now conclusively ruled out any collision between Earth and Apophis.

Apophis will have an extremely close fly by of Earth in 2029, when it will come 10 times closer to our planet than the Moon.

Scientists had become concerned the close passing could have been influenced by Earth’s gravitational pull.

This led to uncertainty in the scientific community as the change in the asteroid’s course could have put it on track for a collision when it returns once again in 2068.

However, NASA has now managed to predict the future trajectory of Apophis with more accuracy to determine there will be no “chance of impact for at least a century”.

NASA was able to rule out a collision following Apophis’ relatively close approach on March 6 this year, when it came within 17 million kilometres of Earth.

The European Space Agency (ESA) said observations “have provided enough data on the orbit of the infamous asteroid to finally rule out, with certainty, any Earth impact for at least 100 years”.

ESA’s Near-Earth Object Coordination Centre (NEOCC) has updated its asteroid risk list catalogue and removed Apophis accordingly.

NASA scientist Marina Brozovic said: “Although Apophis made a recent close approach with Earth, it was still nearly 10.6 million miles [17 million kilometres] away.

“Even so, we were able to acquire incredibly precise information about its distance to an accuracy of about 150 meters [490 feet].

“This campaign not only helped us rule out any impact risk, it set us up for a wonderful science opportunity.”

However, there is another asteroid that could collide with Earth this century.

Asteroid 1979 XB is a 700 metre-wide asteroid that has been dubbed “potentially hazardous” by NASA.

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The massive asteroid, which could easily wipe out a small country, will come within just 1,200 kilometres of Earth in 2058.

The orbit of the asteroid is still unclear, which is why scientists have not completely ruled out an impact.

However, the chances of it hitting are just 0.00002 percent, according to NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS).

If 1979 XB were to pass through a gravitational keyhole, the orbit could be slightly altered so it gets put on a collision course with Earth.

However, NASA will examine the close approach of 1979 XB in 2024 to hopefully completely rule out any impact.

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