Asteroid Apophis Passes Earth, But Could Impact in 2036, Scientists Warn

Astronomers are closely watching an asteroid that passed Earth on Wednesday because of computer projections that give the celestial body a small chance of impacting our planet in a few decades.

Images of the space rock, known as Apophis, were captured by the Herschel Space Observatory and showed that the asteroid is 1,066 feet wide, which is much larger than the initial 885 foot estimate.

The European Space Agency's orbiting telescope took images of the object to analyze the makeup of the asteroid and to better determine its exact orbit, given that revised projections show that the asteroid has a extremely small chance of striking Earth in 2036.

Apophis passed earth at the relatively close distance of nine million miles and was closely watched on its most recent past due to a study performed in 2004 that showed it had a 2.7 percent chance of impacting Earth.

"The 20 percent increase in diameter … translates into a 75 percent increase in our estimates of the asteroid's volume or mass," Thomas Müller, of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany, said in a statement. Video of the orbiting asteroid was broadcast through video streams from the Slooh Space Telescope and Virtual Telescope Project from telescopes observing from Italy and the Canary Island

"Alone among all these near-Earth asteroids that have passed our way in recent years, Apophis has generated the most concern worldwide because of its extremely close approach in 2029 and [chances of a] potential impact, albeit small, in 2036," Patrick Paolucci, Slooh's president, explained during the webcast.

With the small chance the asteroid will impact Earth in 2036, scientists have ruled out that it would be an Extinction Level Event, but it still remains an important object that will be monitored closely.

"Apophis has been one of those celestial bodies that has captured the public's interest since it was discovered in 2004," Steve Chesley member of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program in Pasadena, California, said in a statement.

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