A space telescope in Europe has captured new images of Apophis, the asteroid heading by Earth tonight, revealing that the potentially hazardous object is actually bigger than previously thought. You have a chance to see the space rock yourself in two free webcasts tonight.
Asteroid Apophis has been called the “doomsday asteroid” because of a 2004 study that predicted a 2.7 percent chance of the space rock hitting Earth when it passes within 22,000 miles of the planet in April 2029, European Space Agency officials said. The asteroid really poses no threat to Earth during that flyby, but astronomers will continue to track the massive rock since it is scheduled make another pass near Earth in 2036, says FOX News.
Study leader Thomas Müller of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics stated:
“The 20 percent increase in diameter … translates into a 75 percent increase in our estimates of the asteroid’s volume or mass.”
According to Space.com, tonight’s two free webcasts will be streaming live footage of Apophis from telescopes in Italy and the Canary Islands January 10 (European time, January 9 in the US). The webcasts will show Apophis as a bright light moving across the night sky. Small backyard telescopes will not be able to see it, meaning that it’s a close one, but not that close.
Armageddon theorists can once again relax … for now. Slooh president Patrick Paolucci stated:
“Alone among all these near-Earth asteroids that have passed our way in recent years, Apophis has generated the most concern worldwide because of its extremely close approach in 2029 and [chances of a] potential impact, albeit small, in 2036.”
In addition to asteroid Apophis, astronomers regularly checkfor asteroids that may pose a serious threat to Earth. NASA’s Near-Earth Object Office and Asteroid Watch program is based at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.