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Don't mark your doomsday calendars: 2040 asteroid won't hit Earth

December 24, 2012|By Amina Khan
  • The Gemini telescope sits atop the summit of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano, at sunrise. The Gemini North telescope has picked up signs that a giant asteroid won't be hitting Earth in 2040. Earlier analyses suggested it might be possible.
The Gemini telescope sits atop the summit of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano,…

For those of you disappointed that the world didn’t end last week, there’s more bad news: The world probably won’t be ending in 2040, either – not from a certain giant asteroid, anyway.

Astronomers using the Gemini North telescope in Hawaii have found that the asteroid 2011 AG5 is no longer a major threat – it won’t be hitting Earth in February 2040, as had been earlier feared. That’s good to know, given that an asteroid that large – roughly 150 yards across – would have hit the Earth with several thousand times the combined energy of the two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ended World War II.

2011 AG5 was earlier thought to have a 1-in-500 chance of hitting Earth – alarmingly high, by planetary science standards. But a new analysis shows that the asteroid doesn’t have much chance of even grazing our planet. It won’t get any closer than 550,000 miles, far outside the moon’s orbit.

Plenty of folks are still worried about asteroids hitting earth, however. The B612 Foundation, headed by a former astronaut, looks to map smaller asteroids that could smash into Earth. They say NASA isn’t concerned enough with smaller asteroids, which may not be as big as 2011 AG5 but are still massive enough to inflict a hefty bit of property damage on Earth.

As an example, B612 officials cited the Tunguska impact of 1908, which flattened a 50-mile radius of trees in Siberia, according to an earlier story on the foundation’s mission.

Follow me on Twitter @aminawrite.

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