Apophis will still pass by the Earth in 2029 – specifically on April 13 – at a distance less than 20,000 miles (32,000 kilometers) from the Earth’s surface. The massive asteroid known as 99942 Apophis was once considered among the most dangerous asteroid in space, with the potential to strike Earth very high. When it was discovered, the 370-meter asteroid’s trajectory towards the planet made many fear that an impact could actually happen.
Ultimately, however, this situation now seems unlikely thanks to additional data gathered by astronomers. As such, NASA has declared the planet free of risk from any asteroid impact for the next century.
But just what exactly is this asteroid that had so many people worried? Here is everything you need to know about 99942 Apophis.
When was it discovered and what did it look like?
The asteroid was first discovered on June 19, 2004 by astronomers at Arizona’s Kitt Peak National Observatory. Original estimates had thought the asteroid was 450 meters in diameter. For comparison, that would make it taller than the 381-meter Empire State Building and 324-meter Eiffel Tower, and would make it around half the size of the 828-meter Burj Dubai, the tallest manmade structure in the world.
Later estimates put it at much shorter, with scientists ultimately estimating it around 370 meters.
In terms of classification, Apophis was classified as an Aten-class asteroid, meaning its orbit crosses over with Earth’s orbit around the Sun, but it spends most of its time inside it. However, it will not stay that way, and is set to be reclassified as an Apollo-class asteroid after the anticipated close flyby due to its orbit now becoming wider.
What is its trajectory, and what chance did it have to impact Earth?
As an Aten-class asteroid, the orbit crosses over that of the Earth’s. Due to proximity, size and speed (with it orbiting around 30.73 kilometers per second and completing an orbit around the Sun in about 0.9 Earth years), many worried that it would have struck the planet.