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Asteroid 'Apophis' will miss us this time; but 2068? Stay tuned

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The asteroid Apophis is very unlikely to smack Earth in 2036. That's the good news from a large group of planetary scientists meeting this week in Puerto Rico (nice gig if you can get it!).

Astronomers discovered the asteroid in 2004. At the time, it looked as if it had a 2.7 percent chance of hitting us in 2029. Additional tracking enabled scientists to refine their calculations of the asteroid's orbit. Those calculations ruled out a smack-down in 2029, but left Apophis with a 1 in 45,000 chance of connecting with Earth in 2036.

New numbers released yesterday, however, now put the odds for an impact in 2036 at 1 in 250,000. As astronomers continue to track the asteroid, they say they expect the odds to shrink further.

At some 0.27 kilometers (about 0.2 miles) across, the object would be capable of widespread destruction on a regional scale, according to calculations made by scientists at the Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, N.M.

"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," notes Don Yeomans, who heads the Near-Earth Object Program Office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

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