At around 2pm yesterday, a giant asteroid drifted past earth. It was one of several 'near-earth objects' that have approached our planet since the beginning of the year.
However, NASA has predicted an additional giant asteroid could be on its way, expected to arrive in 2029. But, how close it gets to the planet may affect its return visit in 2036, with potentially disastrous consequences.
The asteroid in question is called Apophis, named after the Egyptian god of chaos. It's a huge mass of ice and rock, roughly the same height as the Eiffel Tower. Apophis will come close to earth, but if it smashes into the planet, it could kill tens of millions of people.
Is an asteroid going to hit earth?
It is unlikely that Apophis will hit earth in 2029, but that doesn't mean it won't return in 2036.
A NASA backed study from MIT has exposed the risk of asteroids coming close to what they call "gravitational keyholes". This means the gravitational pull of earth may bring Apophis closer to us, meaning when it returns in 2036, it will be on a closer collision course with our planet.
But this has given scientists an opportunity to find another way to protect earth.
Sung Wook Paek, lead author of the study, said, "People have mostly considered strategies of last-minute deflection when the asteroid has already passed through a keyhole and is heading toward a collision with earth.
"I’m interested in preventing keyhole passage well before earth impact. It’s like a preemptive strike, with less mess."
Can scientists stop asteroids?
Like something from a sci-fi movie, there are two solutions. According to MIT and NASA, solution one is to blast the rock with a nuclear bomb. But that risks pelting the planet with radioactive fallout.
Solution number two is safer. By using what scientists called a "kinetic impactor", they can bounce the asteroid away.
A kinetic impactor is basically a type of spacecraft projectile that can be launched at the asteroid at such a force it changes the trajectory of the rock.
Should I be worried?
Although asteroid stories can be scary, the fact is that space agencies and scientists from across the world are able to detect them, with decent accuracy, to prepare to deflect them before they are snared in the Earth's gravitational pull.
The giant chaos rock will be visible from earth on the unlucky date of Friday 13 2029.