NASA Says Stay Calm

When the Lyrid meteor shower hits full strength Friday and Saturday morning, it will mark a sort of planetary triple crown: Earth Day, Good Friday and Passover.

The Lyrids are one of the oldest known showers, creating a light show usually seen easily from Earth — and completely harmless.

Until recently, though, plenty of sky watchers thought Earth would now be starting a 25-year countdown to planetary holocaust — April 13, 2036, when the 270-meter-wide asteroid dubbed 99942 Apophis would hammer our home world with the force of two Krakatoas. Not enough to crack Earth like a rotten coconut, but enough to ruin a lot of people’s day.

Asteroid Apophis and Earth

Alamy
An illustration of asteroid Apophis nearing Earth. NASA officials insist that, contrary to the dire fears of Russian scientists, Apophis will not hit our planet in 2036.

Today, however, NASA officials are more likely to grumble in private that Apophis is the cosmic clod that just won’t go away. “We are confident it will be a non-issue,” said Don Yeomans, manager of NASA’s Near Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Apophis looms in the public’s imagination for good reason. In February, Russian scientists made a more-dire-than-necessary prediction: that Apophis, named for the Egyptian god of Chaos, would blast the planet to borscht in 25 years.

Perhaps in the grip of Apophic apoplexy two years earlier, Russia had announced mission plans with the intent to deflect the rock away from Earth. That approach was criticized for fear it might actually have the opposite effect.

Also, the French proposed sending a group of solar sails toward Apophis to reflect radiation at it, hoping to change its course.

Even more confusing is the possibility that, in April 2029, Apophis — with a similar orbit to Earth’s around the sun — might pass through a “gravitational keyhole,” a section of space subject to concentrated gravity about twice its size. In theory, that could alter its orbit enough to swing it back to hit Earth in 2036.

“Earth’s gravitational tugs are just enough to modify [Apophis’] orbit,” Yeomans told AOL News, but he added that the chances of this actually happening are 1 in 250,000 and likely to get smaller.

That level of risk is in between dying in a flood — 1 in 175,803 — and getting blown up by fireworks, 1 in 386,766 (death by gunshot risk is 1 in 306, and that hasn’t prompted the repeal of the Second Amendment, after all).

continue via AOL

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