This story was updated at 11:45 p.m. EDT.
The large asteroid Apophis poses less of a threat of walloping the Earth in the year 2036 than previously thought, new research finds.
The Apophis asteroid, discovered in 2004, is larger than two football fields in size and has captured the space rock limelight in recent years because of its potential to hit Earth in the relatively near future.
The asteroid would not cause a global catastrophe, but could likely spawn significant regional devastation if it were ever to strike the planet, scientists have said.
Now, new data from observations made with the University of Hawaii's 88-inch telescope near the summit of Mauna Kea have allowed astronomers to recalculate the space rock's orbital path. Fortunately for us, the new path indicates that the asteroid is less likely to smack Earth.
"Apophis has been one of those celestial bodies that has captured the public's interest since it was discovered in 2004," said Steve Chesley, a near-Earth object scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. "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."
Initially, Apophis was thought to have a 2.7 percent chance of impacting Earth in 2029. Additional observations of the asteroid 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 new data shows that the asteroid will make another close approach with Earth in 2068 with the chance of impact currently at approximately three-in-a-million. As with the other potential impacts, now ruled as mere close encounters, the probability of the 2069 impact is expected to go down as more information on the asteroid is gathered.
"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."
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