It may be a bit solipsistic to presume that we’ll have anything to do with our own eventual demise. We busy ourselves, fussing about with shrinking carbon footprints and creating an environmentally friendly piece of tupperware, glaciers receeding like a hairline, apocoplyptic weaponery, messianic ideaology, pig flu, bird flu, mad cow, too many people, not enough water, global jihadism and the fucking Jonas Brothers, forgetting that for all these delightfully macabre scenarios, what might kill us all could be none of these things.
They named the asteroid “Apophis” only after figuring out it’s trajectory, Apophis as the Greek translation of “Apep,” the Egyptian demon of chaos and darkness. Discovered around Christmas 2004, Apophis will intersect Earth on April 13th, 2029 (yes, Friday the 13th). Fortunately, it will not hit us... there is apparently a scale, the Torino Scale, that gauges the risk of near earth objects. For the 2029 pass, Apophis is a 0 on that scale. It will, however, come so close to Earth that it will dip below our orbiting communications satellites, and will be visible with the naked eye from (I believe) northern Europe, the closest biggest thing our species has ever seen.
But. It’s trajectory is ever-so-slightly uncertain. There is a very small area that physicists call “the keyhole,” about 600m or so, and if it goes through that, this stadium sized hunk of rock burning at 68,500mph will come back seven years later and plunge itself into the Pacific Ocean, about 300 miles due west off the coast of Santa Monica, creating a 50ft tsunami that wipes out the entire western seaboard of North America.
This isn’t boring news, and the only reason most people don’t know about it is that the discovery of this potential tsunami coincided and was slightly outmatched in the news by an actual tsunami, around Christmas 2004, that caused a bit of trouble in the South Pacific. You may have heard about it.
The chances of this return are encouragingly slim, practically non-existant. You should probably stay on that diet. But it’s always worth considering the fragility of it all, so if you leave the lights on overnight, or shave with the water on, don’t worry about it so much.
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson talks about Apophis.