NASA tweaks killer asteroid's trajectory of death
Bruce Willis can stand down, agency confirms
NASA has recalculated the trajectory of asteroid Apophis and concluded that Bruce Willis can stand down from a state of doom-body-busting readiness.
Apophis - agreeably described by the agency as "approximately the size of two-and-a-half football fields"* - has got a lot of press since its discovery in 2004, when it was calculated that there was a real, if relatively remote, possibility it might collide with Earth in 2029 or 2036.
Mercifully, a 2029 pile-up has already been ruled out, and near-Earth object scientists Steve Chesley and Paul Chodas at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory have now done more sums on Apophis' trajectory, considerably widening the odds that we're all going to die in 2036.
Chesley said: "Updated computational techniques and newly available data indicate the probability of an Earth encounter on April 13, 2036, for Apophis has dropped from one-in-45,000 to about four-in-a million."
The pair got the majority of their new data from Dave Tholen and chums at the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy in Manoa. Tholen scanned "hundreds of previously unreleased images of the night sky" captured by the observatory's 88-inch telescope and made "improved measurements of the asteroid's position in the images".
Chesley and Chodas's other findings are that there's "another close encounter by the asteroid with Earth in 2068 with chance of impact currently at approximately three-in-a-million, although "it is expected that the 2068 encounter will diminish in probability as more information about Apophis is acquired".
* Its estimated length is around 350 metres.
During Apophis's 2029 fly-by it will pass "no closer than 18,300 miles above Earth's surface". NASA tempts fate by describing this as a "record-setting - but harmless - close approach to Earth". ®