In the universal game of Asteroids being played out around us every day, Earth will come out victorious in its looming confrontation with the asteroid 2011 AG5; not by blasting it into tiny smithereens, but by simply avoiding it altogether.
This according to data and findings recently revealed at a workshop discussion on PHA's (Potentially Hazardous Asteroids) held at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.
First discovered in January 2011, the asteroid has been tracked since by several observatories, in an effort to collect as much data on its path as possible. With more data points available to reference, scientists can determine with much greater accuracy the path the asteroid will travel on its solitary journey through the solar system in the coming years.
"With more data points, the knowledge of the potential positions of the asteroid improves and the swath becomes smaller -- typically eliminating the risk of an impact" explained Don Yeomans, manager of the NEO Program Office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Gathering further data on the asteroid is currently hindered by the fact its orbit is beyond Mars, and out of observation range on the other side of the Sun during the daytime. In the coming years, as the asteroid becomes observable once more, it's expected scientists will be able to gauge with greater certainty whether it has any chance of impacting Earth or not. Their data is expected to show at that time a 99% probability of it missing Earth.
The real question is whether 2011 AG5 will pass through what's known as a keyhole in 2023, an area of space where Earth's gravitational pull could change its orbit just enough to bring it back on a collision course in 2040.
"Given our current understanding of this asteroid's orbit, there is only a very remote chance of this keyhole passage even occurring," said Lindley Johnson, NEO Program Executive.
If it does in fact turn out that 2011 AG5 could impact Earth with a high probability, discussion would then shift to how the path of the asteroid could be altered. While hardly an Armageddon-sized asteroid, the 460 foot wide rock could impact an area 100 miles wide if it struck our planet.