NASA scientists are now certain that the asteroid Apophis won't, as feared, hit the Earth during a flyby in 2036.
Combining data from 2011 and 2012 with new observations from the asteroid's flyby last week, they've concluded that there's no chance of an impact - although it will still represent the closest recorded flyby of an asteroid of this size.
When Apophis was first discovered in 2004, initial calculations of its orbit indicated a 2.7 percent possibility of an Earth impact during a close flyby in 2029. While later research ruled this out, scientists feared that an impact was a possibility during another flyby in 2036.
"With the new data provided by the Magdalena Ridge and the Pan-STARRS optical observatories, along with very recent data provided by the Goldstone Solar System Radar, we have effectively ruled out the possibility of an Earth impact by Apophis in 2036," says Don Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office at JPL.
"The impact odds as they stand now are less than one in a million, which makes us comfortable saying we can effectively rule out an Earth impact in 2036. Our interest in asteroid Apophis will essentially be for its scientific interest for the foreseeable future."
Apophis will still get close to Earth - possibly as close as 19,400 miles, says the team.
"But much sooner, a closer approach by a lesser-known asteroid is going to occur in the middle of next month when a 40-meter-sized asteroid, 2012 DA14, flies safely past Earth's surface at about 17,200 miles," says Yeomans.
"With new telescopes coming online, the upgrade of existing telescopes and the continued refinement of our orbital determination process, there's never a dull moment working on near-Earth objects."