Although asteroids often make close approaches to Earth, this happens at relatively safe distances of millions of kilometers. But this does not mean no asteroid is ever going to strike Earth. NASA and other space agencies have kept a watchful eye on a particular asteroid which was previously expected to hit Earth. Although it has now been determined it will not crash to the planet’s surface, it will make an extremely close approach this decade, giving scientists a chance to study it.
This is Asteroid Apophis 99942 and has been given the designation Asteroid 2004 MN4 by NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies. According to NASA, Asteroid 99942 Apophis will make an extremely close trip to Earth on April 13, 2029. On that day, this space rock will come as close as 38000 kilometers of Earth’s surface. This is closer than many geostationary satellites orbiting the planet. It will do so travelling at an approximate speed of 26712 kilometers per hour, which is nearly twice as fast as a hypersonic ballistic missile!
Previous Earth approaches
What’s shocking is this asteroid made its last close approach with Earth just two years ago! Back in 2021, 99942 Apophis passed Earth at a relatively safe distance of 1.9 million kilometers. When this asteroid was discovered in 2004, it was identified as one of the most hazardous asteroids that could impact Earth due to its humongous size and width of approximately 1100 feet, making it nearly as big as a skyscraper!
Will it ever impact?
The asteroid’s risk of potential impact in 2029 was ruled out by scientists, though 2036 and 2068 impacts remained a worry. The asteroid’s 2021 trip to Earth proved useful for scientists as they used powerful radar observations to extensively study the asteroid’s orbit and trajectory.
According to Davide Farnocchia of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies, “A 2068 impact is not in the realm of possibility anymore, and our calculations don’t show any impact risk for at least the next 100 years.” Therefore, it has been declared that Asteroid 99942 Apophis is not expected to impact Earth’s surface for at least a century.