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Doomsday chances dim: Asteroid won't hit Earth in 2036, NASA says

January 11, 2013|By Amina Khan
  • The European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory captured asteroid Apophis in its field of view during its pass near Earth on Saturday and Sunday. There had been some concern Apophis might smash into Earth; scientists now say that chance is very remote.
The European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory captured… (NASA / European Space Agency )

Sad day for the four horsemen of the Apocalypse: NASA scientists say a giant asteroid won’t be hitting Earth in 2036, as earlier feared.

The asteroid Apophis has less than a 1-in-a-million chance of smacking into the planet, according to Don Yeomans, NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program manager.

The hefty space rock was estimated to have a 2.7% chance of hitting Earth in 2029 after it was discovered in 2004, according to a NASA statement released Thursday. Although scientists later ruled out the 2029 scenario, there was still a chance Apophis would hit Earth some seven years later.

Now, with help from ground-based telescopes that watched the asteroid's recent close pass by Earth on Saturday and Sunday, NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program has essentially eliminated that possibility too.

With its roughly 355-yard diameter, Apophis would have made a pretty nasty dent: It’s twice as long as another recently-downgraded asteroid, 2011 AG5, which would have released many thousands of times the energy as the two nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II.

Known more formally as 99942 Apophis, the asteroid was named after the Egyptian god of evil and destruction. For the uninitiated, it's also the name of a villainous alien in the science fiction TV show "Stargate SG-1." (Full disclosure: This reporter is a big fan.)

Though no cigar, Apophis’ 2029 fly-by will come close -- up to within 19,400 miles of Earth’s surface.

A much smaller asteroid, the 44-yard 2012 DA14, is set to swing even closer next month, within just 17,200 miles.

Follow me on Twitter @aminawrite.

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