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NASA downgrades threat of giant asteroid collision in next century

Cape Canaveral: Whew, now here’s some good cosmic news: NASA has given Earth the all clear for the next century from a particularly menacing asteroid.

The space agency announced this week that new telescope observations have ruled out any chance of Apophis smacking Earth in 2068.

That’s the same 340-metre long space rock that was supposed to come frighteningly close in 2029 and again in 2036. NASA ruled out any chance of a strike during those two close approaches a while ago. But a potential 2068 collision still loomed.

The Apophis asteroid is large enough to cause catastrophic damage if it were to hit Earth.

The Apophis asteroid is large enough to cause catastrophic damage if it were to hit Earth.

First detected in 2004, Apophis is now officially off NASA’s asteroid “risk list”.

“A 2068 impact is not in the realm of possibility anymore, and our calculations don’t show any impact risk for at least the next 100 years,” Davide Farnocchia of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies, said in a statement Friday.

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Scientists were able to refine Apophis’ orbit around the sun thanks to radar observations earlier this month, when the asteroid passed within 17 million kilometres.

NASA’s scientists once calculated that if Apophis struck the Earth it would generate a blast equivalent to more than 500 megatonnes of TNT. In comparison, the most powerful hydrogen bomb ever detonated, the Soviet Tsar Bomba, released 57 megatonnes.

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