New research around the feared Apophis asteroid has found chemical reactions taking place on the surface of the space rock could slightly nudge the 370-metre wide asteroid on to a collision course with Earth. In the early 2000s, NASA had feared that Apophis could hit Earth in 2029, giving it a 2.8 percent chance of colliding.
However, this was ultimately ruled out by experts who said it would safely pass our planet this decade.
It will next pass our planet in 2068, and NASA had believed there was no possible chance of collision then either.
However, new calculations from the University of Hawaiʻi Institute for Astronomy (IfA) show there is a chance – albeit very small – that the asteroid could hit in 2068.
Astronomer Dave Tholen and collaborators have announced the detection of a small Yarkovsky acceleration on the surface of the asteroid.
The Yarkovsky effect is when an asteroid or celestial body changes its orbit due to small push of heat, either from itself expelling gasses, or the gravitational push and shove from celestial bodies including the Sun and Earth.
In this instance, the scientists have discovered a small thermal reaction which could slightly alter Apophis’s course, and send it Earth-bound.
According to Mr Tholan, the chances the asteroid will hit Earth in 2068 are one in in 530,000.
While that may seem an almost insignificant amount, to put it into perspective, the chance of you winning the jackpot on the EuroMillions is one in 139,838,160.
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Mr Tholan said: “We have known for some time that an impact with Earth is not possible during the 2029 close approach.
“The new observations we obtained with the Subaru telescope earlier this year were good enough to reveal the Yarkovsky acceleration of Apophis, and they show that the asteroid is drifting away from a purely gravitational orbit by about 170 metres per year, which is enough to keep the 2068 impact scenario in play.”
A statement from the University of Hawai’i said: “All asteroids need to reradiate as heat the energy they absorb from sunlight in order to maintain thermal equilibrium, a process that slightly changes the orbit of the asteroid.
“Prior to the detection of Yarkovsky acceleration on Apophis, astronomers had concluded that a potential impact with Earth in 2068 was impossible.
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“The detection of this effect acting on Apophis means that the 2068 impact scenario is still a possibility.
“Further observations to refine the amplitude of the Yarkovksy effect and how it affects Apophis’ orbit are underway.
“Astronomers will know well before 2068 if there is any chance of an impact.”