Last month, an astronomer from the University of Hawaiʻi Institute for Astronomy (IfA) revealed that he 370-metre wide asteroid could still hit Earth. Scientists had initially ruled out the 2068 collision, but the research showed there is a minute chance – roughly one in 530,000 – the asteroid Apophis could hit Earth. The new study was announced following 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.
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.
“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.”
However, Apophis will have a close flyby of Earth in 2029, and scientists are planning on using its visit to determine whether the space rock is likely to hit in 2068.
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“Time is of the essence as we have less than a decade to plan Earth-based and possible in-situ missions whose measurements can deliver unprecedented detailed knowledge on the physical nature of Apophis as the prototype example (poster child) of potentially hazardous asteroids.”
Apophis is named after the Ancient Egyptian god of evil, darkness and destruction. It is bigger than the Shard in London and impact could have major consequences.
If the 27bn kilogram asteroid were to hit Earth, scientists calculate it would leave a crater more than a mile wide and a staggering 518 metres deep.
However, most worryingly, the impact would be equivalent to 880million tonnes of TNT being detonated – 65,000 times as powerful as the nuclear bomb which was dropped on Hiroshima.