Will the Apophis "God of Chaos" asteroid hit the Earth in 2029?


Todd L Ross

Nothing is 100 percent guaranteed in astronomy, but scientists don’t expect the asteroid 99942-Apophis to come into contact with the Earth (or any other celestial bodies in our solar system, for that matter).

A blog post from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at the California Institute of Technology notes that on Friday, April 13, 2029, 99942-Apophis will “cruise harmlessly by Earth, about 19,000 miles (31,000 kilometers) above the surface.”

You read that right: An asteroid will come incredibly close to the Earth on Friday the 13th. If you’re superstitious, that seems like bad news, but astronomers aren’t worried.

“That’s within the distance [of] some of our spacecraft that orbit Earth,” the blog notes. “The international asteroid research community couldn't be more excited.”

Note that they use the word “excited,” not “terrified.”

"The Apophis close approach in 2029 will be an incredible opportunity for science," Marina Brozović, a radar scientist at JPL, said in a statement. "We'll observe the asteroid with both optical and radar telescopes. With radar observations, we might be able to see surface details that are only a few meters in size."

Without radar, telescopes, or other tools, Apophis will still be impressive. It will be visible to the naked eye and will look like a star moving across the sky. From our perspective, it will become visible above Australia, then move across the Atlantic Ocean, reaching the U.S. West Coast in the early hours of the evening.

Apophis was discovered in June 2004, and later that year, a group of Australian astronomers spotted it a second time and calculated a 2.7 percent chance of a collision with Earth. However, subsequent calculations have ruled out that possibility for the 2029 flyby.

What about future flybys? Speaking to Newsweek, astronomer Davide Farnocchia put the chances of a collision after 2060 at “less than 1 in 100,000.” That’s still incredibly close by the standards of astronomy, but it’s not something to worry about.

If Apophis did come into contact with Earth, it could cause devastating damage, but at 1,110-feet wide, it’s not large enough to cause a global extinction. Asteroids only pose an existential threat to life on Earth when they’re several miles wide; at those sizes, they could throw up enough dust from the planet’s surface to block out sunlight, preventing plant growth and causing global temperature changes. Scientists believe that the object that contributed to the extinction of dinosaurs was about seven to eight miles wide.

Apophis isn’t a threat at all—at least, it won’t be in 2029. If you’ve got clear skies that night, count yourself lucky and watch the show (and don’t worry about taking out extra insurance).