New research on the fearsome asteroid Apophis has revealed that chemical reactions occurring on the surface of a space rock could slightly move the 370-meter-wide asteroid in the course of a collision with Earth. In the early 2000s, NASA feared that Apophis could hit Earth in 2029, giving it a 2.8% chance of colliding.
However, this was eventually ruled out by experts who said it would safely pass our planet this decade.
It will pass our planet next in 2068, and NASA believed that even then there is no possibility of a collision.
However, new calculations from the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Hawaii (IfA) show that there is a possibility – albeit a very small one – of the asteroid hitting 2068.
Astronomer Dave Tolen and co-workers have announced the discovery of a slight acceleration of Jarkowski on the asteroid’s surface.
The Jarkowski effect is when an asteroid or celestial body changes its orbit due to low heat pressure, either expelling gases, or gravitational pressure and pushing from celestial bodies, including the Sun and Earth.
In this case, scientists have discovered a small thermal reaction that could slightly alter the course of Apophis and send it bound to Earth.
According to Mr. Tolan, the chances of the asteroid hitting Earth in 2068 are one in 530,000.
Although it may seem like an almost insignificant amount, to put it in perspective, the chance of winning the Euro Millions jackpot is one of 139,838,160.
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Mr Tolan said: “We have known for some time that influence with the Earth is not possible during the approaching 2029.
“The new excitations we received with the Subaru telescope earlier this year were good enough to detect Jarkowski’s acceleration at Apophis, and they show that the asteroid is moving away from a purely gravitational orbit by about 170 meters a year, which is enough to keep the 2068 impact scenario. “
A statement from the University of Hawaii said: “All asteroids need to reorder as heat the energy they absorb from sunlight to maintain heat balance, a process that slightly alters the asteroid’s orbit.
“Before the discovery of Jarkowski’s acceleration at Apophis, astronomers concluded that a potential impact with Earth in 2068 was impossible.
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“Discovering this effect on Apophis means that the 2068 impact scenario is still a possibility.
“Further observations are underway to refine the amplitude of the Jarkowski effect and how it affects the orbit of Apophis.
“Astronomers will know well before 2068 whether there is any possibility of influence.