A 370m-wide space rock is causing concern for scientists as they are unable to rule out an impact with absolute certainty. The asteroid in question is known as 99942 Apophis – or provisionally designated as 2004 MN4 – and has left scientists feeling uneasy. When the asteroid was first discovered in 2004, NASA was concerned that it would hit Earth in 2029, stating there was a 2.7 percent chance of impacting the planet.
However, by studying its orbit of the Sun, the space agency was eventually able to rule this impact out.
But experts across the globe are still worried about a potential impact on April 12, 2068 – but this depends on the Yarkovsky effect.
The Yarkovsky effect is when an asteroid or celestial body changes its orbit due to small push of heat, either from itself expelling gasses, or the gravitational push and shove from celestial bodies including the Sun and Earth.
When the 370m-wide space rock, which dwarfs London’s Shard which stands at just over 300m, passes Earth in 2029, the orbit could be slightly altered.
This could happen again when the asteroid flies by in 2051, with our planet again potentially changing the asteroid’s course.
A study from the Department of Celestial Mechanics at St Petersburg State University warned there is a chance it could hit Earth in 2068, at a staggering speed of 7.43km per SECOND.
The report read: “The [asteroid’s] approach causes a significant scattering of possible trajectories, among them trajectories indicating convergence in 2051.
“Further orbital resonance reentries contain a great number (about one hundred) possible collisions between Apophis and the Earth, the most dangerous of them in 2068.”
“But our models also show the close approach could change the way this asteroid spins and it is possible that there will be some surfaces changes, like small avalanches.”
At 360m-wide, the asteroid would not be an extinction level event, but it could wipe out millions of humans.
Robert Walker, an inventor, computer programmer and astronomer, wrote on the science blog Science 2.0: “If it hit on land it would create a large crater (as a rough guide the crater is ten times the diameter of the asteroid) and that could kill millions of people if it landed in or near a city.
“If it landed in a remote place the effects could be minimal – and much of the land area to this day is still desert or ice or uninhabited by humans.”