US: Nasa scientists played the kill-joy for ‘Doomsday’ scenario fans, with the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., effectively have ruling out the possibility the asteroid Apophis will impact Earth during a close flyby in 2036.
However, let’s all hope Nasa has got its calculations right, because, the Obama administration has rejected an official petition calling for the US government to build a Death Star, the fictional planet-destroying space station featured in the Star Wars movies.
"The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn't on the horizon," said Paul Shawcross, head of the White House budget office's science and space branch.
"The Administration does not support blowing up planets," Shawcross wrote in a response to the 34,435 people who signed the petition on the White House website.
"The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000 (an estimated $850 quadrillion).
"We're working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it," Shawcross said.
Meanwhile, the Nasa scientists used updated information obtained by Nasa-supported telescopes in 2011 and 2012, as well as new data from the time leading up to Apophis' distant Earth flyby on January 9.
Discovered in 2004, the asteroid, which is the size of three-and-a-half football fields, gathered the immediate attention of space scientists and the media when initial calculations of its orbit indicated a 2.7 per cent possibility of an Earth impact during a close flyby in 2029.
Data discovered during a search of old astronomical images provided the additional information required to rule out the 2029 impact scenario, but a remote possibility of one in 2036 remained - until yesterday.
"With the new data provided by the Magdalena Ridge [New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology] and the Pan-STARRS [Univ. of Hawaii] 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," said 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."
The April 13, 2029, flyby of asteroid Apophis will be one for the record books. On that date, Apophis will become the closest flyby of an asteroid of its size when it comes no closer than 19, 400 miles (31,300 kilometers) above Earth's surface.
"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," said 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."
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