There has been some recent interest in the asteroid 99942 Apophis and its close encounter with earth expected in 2029. When discovered in 2004, the preliminary orbit for Apophis indicated that it might crash onto earth on April 13, 2029 (yes, that is a Friday). However, as is always the case, follow-up observations improved our knowledge of the orbit. We now know that Apophis will pass close very close to the earth that day, but it will miss. How close will Apophis come? Its closest approach will be about 20,000 miles (about one-tenth of the distance between the earth and the moon). Apophis’ longest dimension is nearly 1,500 feet. No object of such size is known to have passed that close to the earth. When nearest to the earth, Apophis ought to appear as a third magnitude star moving about 40 degrees per hour. It would be quite a sight for people with moderately dark skies that night.
How close will Apophis come? Its closest approach will be about 20,000 miles (about one-tenth of the distance between the earth and the moon).
If an object this size were to strike the earth, the impact would have huge effects. The energy released would at least 1,000 megatons of TNT (this is nearly 100,000 times more energy than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima). If over land, the devastation likely would overwhelm the government of the country or countries where the impact was. If the impact occurred over water, the tsunami raised would wipe out large areas on all sides of whatever ocean it struck. Again, this is an issue only if Apophis were to strike the earth. However, all evidence indicates that Apophis will miss the earth entirely. So, why are some people concerned that there will be an impact in 2029?
Credit (or blame) goes to Thomas Horn, who recently published a book, The Wormwood Prophecy, about the 2029 collision of Apophis with earth. Technically, this isn’t quite true, because relatively little of this book is about the supposed collision in 2029. Rather, much of the book is a weaving of various things in Scripture, such as associating the ten plagues of Egypt with events in Revelation 8. More of the hype about Apophis probably comes from Horn making his rounds in promoting his book.
Where does Wormwood fit in? Revelation 8:10–11 reads
The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter.
Horn spends much of the book discussing possible meanings of Wormwood, different views on portions of the Book of Revelation, and many real catastrophes from around the world to assess the possible impact of the events of Revelation 8.
Through all this, Horn manages to mangle many sources that he cites. For instance, a key part of Horn’s conjecture is the work of physicist Nathan Myhrvold. Horn referenced Myhrvold’s paper “An Empirical Examination of WISE/NEOWISE Asteroid Analysis and Results.” WISE is the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, an infrared-wavelength space telescopethat, during a 10-month mission in 2010, surveyed almost the entire sky in four infrared band passes. As the mission ended, NASA recommissioned WISE to search for and measure near-earth objects (NEOs), hence the second mission, NEOWISE, was born. NEOs are small solar system objects (both asteroids and comets) with orbits around the sun that are close to earth’s orbit and so pose possible threats of collision with earth. THE WISE and NEOWISE programs measured many NEOS. In his paper, Myhrvold objected to the way that the data were handled and argued that it produced error in the computation of asteroid sizes. Horn spun this into an accusation of a government coverup, with the implication that NASA has evidence of a collision or collisions of NEOs soon but is choosing to hide this from the public.
Fortunately, Horn has misunderstood what Myhrvold wrote. Myhrvold did not argue that the orbits of the NEOs measured are wrong. Rather, he maintains that the sizes of the NEOs are improperly computed. If the sizes of NEOs are greater than computed, then we are seriously underestimating the potential effects of a collision. But no one other than Horn is claiming that there are going to be any collisions with known NEOs.
To further bolster his case, Horn appealed to the claims of a man named Harry Lear. Lear believes that all the mathematicians in the world are wrong about the value of π, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. The number π is irrational, meaning that it cannot be written to full accuracy as a decimal—its decimal neither terminates nor repeats. The value of π to ten significant figures is 3.141592654. But Lear says (and Horn concurs) that the value of π to ten significant figures is 3.144605511. How did Lear arrive at this conclusion? He is convinced that the true value of π is equal to 4/√φ, where φ is the irrational number from the golden ratio having the value (to ten significant figures) 1.618033989. There are many ways to compute the value of π to any accuracy desired (I’ve even done this myself). We know the value of π, we have known it for a very long time, and it is not the value that Lear says that it is. To anyone who understands mathematics, Lear’s claim is preposterous.
In an open letter to President Trump and other government officials, Lear has demanded that NASA recompute the orbit of Apophis using his corrected value of π. It’s not clear from Lear’s meager calculation of a new distance of Apophis and earth from the sun that this would make any difference in the conclusion about whether Apophis will collide with earth in 2029. Given Lear’s bogus value for π, it is a fool’s errand to recompute orbits on his urging. From this, Horn apparently thinks that a collision with Apophis or some other NEO soon is highly likely.
But Horn was not through. He also appealed to the pronouncements of Billy Meier. Meier is the Swiss founder and leader of a UFO religion. He says that he has been contacted by aliens called the Plejaren. Meier also claims to be the seventh reincarnation of six previous prophets (Enoch, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jesus, and Mohammed). Both Horn and Lear say that in 1981 Meier prophesied that the earth would be struck by a large object on April 13, 2029. That was 23 years before the discovery of Apophis, so both Horn and Lear conclude that Meier must be correct about this. Many Christians ought to be turned off by Meier’s obvious false teachings, but Horn is not. Horn would compare Meier to false prophets of the past, such as Balaam. Though Balaam was a false prophet (2 Peter 2:15; Jude 11; Revelation 2:14) who was hired to curse Israel, God used him to bless them instead (Numbers 22–24).
To many people who monitor such things, much of this affair about Apophis probably brings up memories of Nibiru, a hypothetical rogue planet that supposedly has plagued the earth in the past and will do so again soon. However, distances himself from Nibiru, indicating that there is nothing to it and arguing against the false teachings of Nibiru’s major proponents. Apparently, there is no Balaam analogue with Nibiru.
It seems that keen interest in end-of-the-world prophecies cyclically repeats. A few years ago, it was the supposed four blood moons that would usher in the end of the age. Then it was an alignment of planets, the sun, and the moon on September 23, 2017. Of course, these events transpired, but the Lord did not return. Horn’s hype about Apophis is even far less likely than those other two. However, that won’t deter many people who thirst to see end-times prophecies unfold before their eyes. There is sure to be increased interest in this topic, particularly as the year 2029 draws near. Only time will tell how large this issue will become. If interest in this topic swells, watch for future updates.