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Friday the 13th is supposed to be an unlucky day, the sort of day you trip on your shoe laces, or lose your wallet, or get bad news.
But maybe it's not so bad after all. Consider this: On April the 13th, (Friday the 13th) 2029, millions of people are going to go outside, look up at the sky, and marvel at our good luck. A point of light will be gliding across the sky, faster than many satellites, brighter than most of our visible stars. What's so lucky about that? It's asteroid 99942 Apophis (2004 MN4), not hitting the Earth. For a short while astronomers thought that it might. On Christmas Eve of 2004, Paul Chodas, Steve Chesley and Don Yeomans at NASA's Near Earth Object Program office calculated a one-in-60 chance that asteroid 99942 Apophis (2004 MN4) would be hitting the Earth on April 13th, 2029. Astronomically speaking, those are incredibly bad odds. That's a higher probability ratio than getting in a car accident on your local highway. Luckily since 2004, NASA scientists have now changed their numbers. Initially, Apophis was thought to have a 2.7 percent chance of impacting Earth on April 13, 2029. As of 2009, however, additional observations of Apophis have now ruled out any possibility of an impact in 2029 at all. But, boy is it going to be close!
In the above diagram, what you see is the most likely position of Apophis (2004 MN4) at the end of the blue line in the proximity of the Earth and the orbit of the Moon on April 13, 2029. However, since the asteroid's position in space is not perfectly known at that time; the white dots at right angles to the blue line are possible alternate positions of the asteroid. Neither the nominal position of the asteroid, nor any of its possible alternative positions, touches the Earth, thus indicating that an asteroid...