Additional observations of the trajectory of Apophis revealed the keyhole will likely be missed. On August 5, 2006 Apophis was lowered to a Level 0 on the Torino Scale. As of October 7, 2009, the impact probability for April 13, 2036, is calculated as 1 in 250,000. An additional impact date in 2037 was also identified; the impact probability for that encounter is calculated as 1 in 12.3 million.
Based upon the observed brightness, Apophis' length was estimated at 450 metres (1,500 ft); a more refined estimate based on spectroscopic observations at NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii by Binzel, Rivkin, Bus, and Tokunaga (2005) is 350 metres (1,100 ft).
In October 2005 it was predicted that the asteroid will pass just below the altitude of geosynchronous satellites, which are at 35,786 kilometres (22,236 mi). Such a close approach by an asteroid of this size is expected to occur only every 1,300 years or so. Apophis’ brightness will peak at magnitude 3.3, with a maximum angular speed of 42° per hour. The maximum apparent angular diameter will be ~2 arcseconds, so that it will be barely resolved by telescopes not equipped with adaptive optics.
After the Minor Planet Center confirmed the June discovery of Apophis, an April 13, 2029 close approach was flagged by NASA's automatic Sentry system and NEODyS, a similar automatic program run by the University of Pisa and the University of Valladolid. On that date, it will become as bright as magnitude 3.3 (visible to the naked eye from rural as well as darker suburban areas, visible with binoculars from most locations). This close approach will be visible from Europe, Africa, and western Asia. As a result of its close passage, it will move from the Aten to the Apollo class.
After Sentry and NEODyS announced the possible impact, additional observations decreased the uncertainty in Apophis' trajectory. As they did, the probability of an impact event temporarily climbed, peaking at 2.7% (1 in 37). Combined with its size, this caused Apophis to be assessed at level 4 on the Torino Scale and 1.10 on the Palermo scale, scales scientists use to represent the danger of an asteroid hitting Earth. These are the highest values for which any known object has been rated on either scale.
On Friday, April 13, 2029, Apophis will pass Earth within the orbits of geosynchronous communication satellites. It will return for another close Earth approach in 2036.
Precovery observations from March 15, 2004 were identified on December 27, and an improved orbit was computed.Radar astrometry further refined the orbit. The 2029 pass will actually be much closer than the first predictions, but the uncertainty is such that an impact is ruled out. Similarly, the pass on April 13, 2036 carries little risk of an impact.
The close approach in 2029 will substantially alter the object's orbit, making predictions uncertain without more data. "If we get radar ranging in 2013 [the next good opportunity], we should be able to predict the location of 2004 MN4 out to at least 2070." said Jon Giorgini of JPL. Apophis will pass within 0.09666 AU (14.4 million km) of the Earth in 2013 allowing astronomers to refine the trajectory for future close passes.
In July 2005, former Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart, as chairman of the B612 Foundation, formally asked NASA to investigate the possibility that the asteroid's post-2029 orbit could be in orbital resonance with Earth, which would increase the probability of future impacts. Schweickart asked for an investigation of the necessity of placing a transponder on the asteroid for more accurate tracking of how its orbit is affected by the Yarkovsky effect.
NASA Refines Asteroid Apophis' Path Toward Earth
Using updated information, NASA scientists have recalculated the path of a large asteroid. The refined path indicates a significantly reduced likelihood of a hazardous encounter with Earth in 2036.
The Apophis asteroid is approximately the size of two-and-a-half football fields. The new data were documented by near-Earth object scientists Steve Chesley and Paul Chodas at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. They will present their updated findings at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences in Puerto Rico on Oct. 8.
"Apophis has been one of those celestial bodies that has captured the public's interest since it was discovered in 2004," said Chesley. "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."
A majority of the data that enabled the updated orbit of Apophis came from observations Dave Tholen and collaborators at the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy in Manoa made. Tholen pored over hundreds of previously unreleased images of the night sky made with the University of Hawaii's 88-inch telescope, located near the summit of Mauna Kea.
Tholen made improved measurements of the asteroid's position in the images, enabling him to provide Chesley and Chodas with new data sets more precise than previous measures for Apophis. Measurements from the Steward Observatory's 90-inch Bok telescope on Kitt Peak in Arizona and the Arecibo Observatory on the island of Puerto Rico also were used in Chesley's calculations.
The information provided a more accurate glimpse of Apophis' orbit well into the latter part of this century. Among the findings is another close encounter by the asteroid with Earth in 2068 with chance of impact currently at approximately three-in-a-million. As with earlier orbital estimates where Earth impacts in 2029 and 2036 could not initially be ruled out due to the need for additional data, it is expected that the 2068 encounter will diminish in probability as more information about Apophis is acquired.
Initially, Apophis was thought to have a 2.7 percent chance of impacting Earth in 2029. Additional observations of the asteriod ruled out any possibility of an impact in 2029. However, the asteroid is expected to make a record-setting -- but harmless -- close approach to Earth on Friday, April 13, 2029, when it comes no closer than 18,300 miles above Earth's surface.
"The refined orbital determination further reinforces that Apophis is an asteroid we can look to as an opportunity for exciting science and not something that should be feared," said Don Yeomans, manager of the Near-Earth Object Program Office at JPL. "The public can follow along as we continue to study Apophis and other near-Earth objects by visiting us on our AsteroidWatch Web site and by following us on the @AsteroidWatch Twitter feed."
The science of predicting asteroid orbits is based on a physical model of the solar system which includes the gravitational influence of the sun, moon, other planets and the three largest asteroids.
NASA detects and tracks asteroids and comets passing close to Earth using both ground and space-based telescopes. The Near Earth-Object Observations Program, commonly called "Spaceguard," discovers these objects, characterizes a subset of them and plots their orbits to determine if any could be potentially hazardous to our planet.
JPL manages the Near-Earth Object Program Office for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Cornell University operates the Arecibo Observatory under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation in Arlington, Va.
Possible impact effects
NASA initially estimated the energy that Apophis would have released if it struck Earth as the equivalent of 1,480 megatons of TNT. A later, more refined NASA estimate was 880 megatons. The impacts which created the Barringer Crater or the Tunguska event are estimated to be in the 3–10 megaton range. The 1883 eruption of Krakatoa was the equivalent of roughly 200 megatons.
The exact effects of any impact would vary based on the asteroid's composition, and the location and angle of impact. Any impact would be extremely detrimental to an area of thousands of square kilometres, but would be unlikely to have long-lasting global effects, such as the initiation of an impact winter (?).
The B612 Foundation made estimates of Apophis' path if a 2036 Earth impact were to occur as part of an effort to develop viable deflection strategies.The result is a narrow corridor a few miles wide, called the path of risk, and it includes most of southern Russia, across the north Pacific (relatively close to the coastlines of California and Mexico), then right between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, crossing northern Colombia and Venezuela, ending in the Atlantic, just before reaching Africa.Using the computer simulation tool NEOSim, it was estimated that the hypothetical impact of Apophis in countries such as Colombia and Venezuela, which are in the path of risk, would have had more than 10 million casualties.An impact several thousand miles off the West Coast of the US would produce a devastating tsunami.