Here’s the “path of risk” for a 2036 Apophis impact:
Don’t think the Pacific Ocean is a happy target if we have to get socked. Coastal regions would be inundated by 50-foot waves for an hour after the asteroid tears a two-mile deep trough into the ocean. Probably the very worst would be a Caribbean strike just off the coast of Panama. It would cause Katrina-like devastation not just in a city or region, but in a dozen Latin American countries, plus the entire American Gulf Coast. Of course, the Sea of Okhotsk would be just about as bad: Korea, Japan, and probably China.
According to scientists, if we wait until a Friday the 13th in 2029 to find out if the 45000-to-1 shot comes in, it will be too late to divert the asteroid.
NASA, however, is taking a wait-and-see attitude. An analysis by Steven Chesley of the Near Earth Object program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in
Pasadena, Calif., concludes that we can safely sit tight until 2013. That’s when Apophis swings by Earth in prime position for tracking by the 1000-ft.-dia. radio telescope in Arecibo,
Puerto Rico. This data could also rule out a keyhole hit in 2029. But if it doesn’t, the transponder mission and, if necessary, a last-resort deflection mission could still be launched in time, according to Chesley. “There’s no rush right now,” he says. “But if it’s still serious by 2014, we need to start designing real missions.”