Scientists have identified an asteroid, 2011 AG5, that has a 1 in 625 chance of hitting Earth, 28 years from now – Feb. 5, 2040, to be exact. Note that down in your calendars folks.
But before that sets off mental images of Lars Von Trier’s latest apocalyptic, planet-colliding film Melancholia (which is really excellent by the way), that also means there’s a 99.84% chance the asteroid will miss the Earth.
Apparently the asteroid is so far expected to pass as close as between Earth and the Moon. That’s close enough for it to have been on the agenda for discussion for a meeting of the (wait for it) Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS).
The asteroid was discovered back in January 2011, and it’s now the object that has the highest chance of impacting the Earth. However, scientists have so far only been able to observe the asteroid for half of its orbit, so the confidence in the impact calculations is not high yet, a representative of the European Space Agency’s Solar System Missions Devision has been reported as saying. In order to be sure, scientists wil need to observe the asteroid for one or two full obits.
Donald Yeomans, head of the Near-Earth Object Observations Program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, has said that in the very unlikely scenario that the impact probability of 2011 AG5 does not significantly decrease after further observation, “there would still be time to mount a deflection mission to alter its course”. Now we’re talking!
In 2023, apparently the asteroid will be within 2.99 million kilometers (1.86 million miles) of the Earth, so that would be the time to mount such a mission, if it becomes necessary. That distance is twice the distance the sun is away from the Earth, by the way.
No doubt scientists will continue to watch this one pretty closely!
Image CC licensed by andrewsrj: Asteroid (not 2011 AG5)