n modern times, a collision would be a different story. NASA`s Near Earth Objects
Program scans the skies to detect, catalogue and monitor asteroids and other objects.
To date, none of the potentially hazardous asteroids detected by NASA scientists is
thought to present a substantial threat to Earth, but in the event that a potentially
hazardous object is discovered, the Near-Earth Objects Program will also facilitate
communications between the astronomical community and the public.
Today, we estimate that up to 1500 objects larger than one kilometer (six tenths of a
mile) across still exist in orbits near Earth. An asteroid from the smaller end of this scale
could destroy a city. Our goal is to identify and track at least 90% of the near-Earth
objects greater than one kilometer in diameter by 2008.
In December of 2004, initial observations indicated that a 1,000 foot-wide asteroid had the potential of striking Earth on April 13th - Friday the 13th, as it happens - 2029. The asteroid was named 99942 Apophis, after the Egyptian god of destruction and darkness, Apep.
Multiple observations of celestial objects are required in order to determine exact
position and trajectory. As additional observations improved calculations of Apophis`s
course, scientists were able to rule out the possibility of a collision in 2029. But there
remains a slight possibility that Apophis could be snagged by Earth`s gravitational field
in a way that causes it to strike the planet on a return flyby in the year 2036. This
scenario would play out if, during the 2029 encounter, Apophis passes through the
precise point in space at which Earth`s gravitational pull would affect the asteroid`s
orbit in just the right way. This "keyhole" is less than 2,000 feet wide, so the probability
this will happen is small (about one in 5,500).
Apophis is the only asteroid that ranks on the Torino scale - a Richter-style rating system
adopted by NASA in 1999 to rank asteroids in terms of their size, chance of colliding
with Earth, and level of damage they could do if an impact occurs. Apophis is classified
as a level-one threat, for which "the chance of collision is extremely unlikely with no
cause for public attention or public concern."
NASA continues to refine its understanding of Apophis` course. Though the risk of a
collision is small, NASA is considering plans for thwarting Apophis should future
observations show it to be a threat.
* Is Earth on a collision course... with something big? It`s possible. It`s happened
* NASA`s Near Objects Program manages the detection and cataL O G I Ng of Near-Earth
objects, and will be responsible for informing US government departments and agencies
should any potentially hazardous objects be discovered.
* Today, we estimate that up to 1100 objects larger than one kilometer across that still
exist in orbits near Earth. Our goal is to identify and track at least 90% of these objects
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