Congrats! Come 2036, you'll still be here – as opposed to being blown apart by a giant asteroid that was initially thought to have a great-than-zero chance of striking Earth when it swings around in 2036.
Well, you might not still be here – who knows! – but the Earth should still be around and intact. NASA scientists have officially ruled that the asteroid Apophis, an approximately 885-foot-long hunk of rock that just passed within nine million miles of Earth this past Wednesday, will not be the herald of humanity's doom come 20 or so years from now. That's a bit more of a relief than the approximate 2.7 percent chance scientists had first assigned as a strike probability to Apophis when the asteroid was discovered in 2004.
"The impact odds as they stand now are less than one in a million, which makes us comfortable saying we can effectively rule out an Earth impact in 2036. Our interest in asteroid Apophis will essentially be for its scientific interest for the foreseeable future," said Don Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office, in a statement.
While Apophis' 2029 flyby of Earth will still set records for the closest such pass by an object of the asteroid's size, it's not going to have sky-watchers sweating bullets as was previously thought. Astronomers had initially feared that the close pass had a chance to send Apophis flying through a galactic "keyhole" – not a term stolen from the comic books, we note, but a half-mile-wide area of space that would then set Apophis on the perfect path for smacking into the planet when the asteroid came back around in 2036.
That said, don't count Apophis out completely just yet.
"But/And ... there are more radar observations to integrate in ... as well as optical tracking both now and for the next several years. Apophis isn't going away ... the impact possibilities are simply shifting around a bit with refinement of the tracking data. 2036 is now less probable; 2068 is now more probable (but still very low)," wrote Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart to Cosmic Log's Alan Boyle.
It's expected that scientists will be able to pull in more data about Apophis' exact track by the end of February. For now, however, you can safely keep your next thirty years' worth of dinner plans intact.
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