Repeat after me: Apophis is not a danger!

By Phil Plait | January 31, 2011 7:00 am

What is it with all the bad media reports of cosmic doomsdays? Betelgeuse last week, giant spaceships before that, and now Apophis. Sigh.

Here’s the scoop: I was tipped off about this by Jesse Emspak, who writes for the International Business Time (and who wrote a great article about the real opportunities represented by Apophis), and who told me about a Russian news site which, a few days ago, posted an article about the asteroid Apophis with the very menacing title, "Russian astronomers predict Apophis-Earth collision in 2036".

Sounds scary, right? One problem: it’s 100% utter crap.

Rock will roll on by

This guy won’t help.

First, the reality: Apophis is what’s called a near-Earth asteroid; it currently swings near our planet roughly every seven years. In April 2029 it will have an extremely near pass, getting so close it will actually be below our geosynchronous satellites! It will definitely miss us, but there’s a catch: if it passes us at just the right distance, Earth’s gravity will warp its orbit just enough that seven years later, Apophis will hit the Earth.

Let me be very, very clear: the odds of this happening are incredibly low, something like one in a 135,000. I fret about asteroid impacts, as you might imagine, but this one doesn’t worry me at all. The odds are so low I worry more about Snooki getting her own three-movie contract.

The reason the impact odds are so low, but not zero, is that we don’t precisely know Apophis’s orbit. There is a tiny region of space above the Earth called the keyhole, and Apophis has to pass right through it to have its orbit modified enough to hit us on the next path. We can’t know for sure if the rock will pass through the keyhole or not in 2029, but we can apply statistics and calculate that minuscule 0.0007% chance. And maybe it’s better to think of it as a 99.9993% chance it’ll miss.

Feel better?

Apophisalypse

OK, so what’s with that Russian news article? Besides the breathless — and totally wrong — headline, here’s the first line:

Russian astronomers have predicted that asteroid Apophis may strike Earth on April 13, 2036.

Bzzzzzt. While technically correct, this gives the strong impression that the odds of impact are high. That’s irresponsible journalism at best. Yet things quickly get worse:

"Apophis will approach Earth at a distance of 37,000-38,000 kilometers on April 13, 2029. Its likely collision with Earth may occur on April 13, 2036," Professor Leonid Sokolov of the St. Petersburg State University said.

Aiieeee! The collision is "likely"? Aiiieee!

Except for the small fact that, like I said, it’s not. In fact, even "unlikely" is way too strong a word for it. I’d bet my life savings against an impact.

But the article continues:

The scientist said, however, the chance of a collision in 2036 was extremely slim saying that the asteroid would likely disintegrate into smaller parts and smaller collisions with Earth could occur in the following years.

Well, for Pete(resburg)’s sake. Which is it? Likely, or extremely slim? Sigh.

That last bit is interesting, though. The asteroid would disintegrate? What?

Now, that’s not a totally crazy idea. Some asteroids are not actually solid; they’re more like flying piles of rubble held together by their own gravity. We’ve actually seen asteroids like this, so we know they exist. If they’re big enough, and pass close enough to Earth, our gravity could pull them apart. The thing is, Apophis is only about 250 meters across, which is on the small side for this happen. So why would the article say it might fly apart?

I decided I needed to go to the source.

Leonid’s meteor

I did a web search on the astronomer quoted in the article, Leonid Sokolov. I had never heard of him, but of course there are thousands of astronomers on the planet. A little digging on the ‘net turned him up, and as it happens he is in fact a Russian astronomer and a member of the International Astronomical Union. I found his email address, and sent him a carefully-worded email asking him if he felt the article represented his view fairly.

I got an email back later that night that was pretty clear:

This is "bad mass communication", journalist misunderstanding, not "bad astronomy" […] The probability of Apophis collision in 2036 is VERY-VERY SMALL, but not zero, the probability of Apophis collision after 2036 is VERY-VERY-VERY SMALL, but not zero.

Aha! As I suspected, we have a case here of a journalist grossly misrepresenting what an astronomer said. I had at first wondered if maybe there was a mistranslation to English, but what Dr. Sokolov is saying is that the reporter really just screwed this up. Massively. And what Sokolov said in his email to me is essentially correct. The odds are very small but not zero, and the odds get even lower after 2036.

But what about that weird bit about Apophis disintegrating and pummeling us like a shotgun? Sokolov told me:

In my talk I have spoken about SCATTERING OF POSSIBLE TRAJECTORIES of Apophis after approach in 2029 and possible approach in 2036, NOT DISRUPTION of asteroid!

Ah, I see. The word "scattering" is where things went awry.

When we observe an asteroid, we cannot get its precise position in space. There’s always some uncertainty caused by various factors like measurement errors inherent in the images, atmospheric distortions blurring out the image of the asteroid, the effects of sunlight radiation pressure on the orbit, and lots of other things. So we get an orbit that’s not exact, and projecting that into the future makes it even worse. Sometimes that means we have no idea where the rock will be in a decade or two. However, in the case of Apophis, we do have a good enough orbit to nail down its position in April 2029 to a few kilometers, accurately enough to know it will miss, but not accurately enough to know if it’ll pass through the keyhole. The most likely path it will take is outside the keyhole, but the uncertainty in the orbit just barely overlaps the keyhole. That’s why we can say the odds are so low, but not exactly zero.

So after that pass in 2029, we don’t know its exact orbit. Think of it this way: imagine three rocks all lined up next to each other approaching the Earth. One is closest to us, one in the middle, and one farther away. The Earth’s gravity is slightly different on each one, so after the pass their orbits are all different. They will move apart over time, the Earth having — aha! — scattered them.

That’s what Sokolov meant. He calculated the possible orbits of Apophis after it passes us, and sees them diverging. So it was the potential paths of Apophis that get scattered, not the rock itself!

So the reporter messed that part up too.

This too shall pass

This kind of stuff really ticks me off, as you might have noticed. Scaring people is not something I take lightly, whether it’s frauds riling up parents about vaccines and autism, or making up stories about nearby supernovae and 2012. You may just blow it off and think that if people don’t educate themselves on science, well, caveat emptor. But I think that’s the wrong attitude; the fact of the matter is there’s just too much misinformation out there to expect people to educate themselves on everything. People have lives, they’re busy, they have other concerns. If they hear something like this and lack the critical thinking or educational background to parse the story correctly, then we are all to blame. It’s up to all of us to get out there and teach people how to separate reality from nonsense.

And I’m not a fool, I know that that’s impossible to do for everyone. But we can minimize it. And maybe, if we can get to enough folks, we’ll reach a critical mass — a herd immunity, if you will — where nonsense will find it can’t get a toehold. Enough people will know better that such antiscience, antireality thinking may become an endangered species.

And you know what? That’s one mass extinction I can live with.


Image credit: Dan Durda; UH/IA

Related posts:

Apophis danger downgraded
In Russia, Apophis impacts YOU
No, a 13 year old boy did boy correct NASA
We’re all doomed! Oh wait, no we’re not

Comments (108)

  1. Messier Tidy Upper

    Okay I’ll repeat it after you then :

    Apophis is NOT a danger! ;-)

    It is, however, an interesting rock that would make an worthwhile future robotic or, even better human, space mission target methinks. :-)

    What is it with all the bad media reports of cosmic doomsdays? Betelgeuse last week, giant spaceships before that, and now Apophis. Sigh.

    Silly season? Too many slow news days? ;-)

  2. MrBrown

    Couple of questions if I may…will Apophis be visible to the naked eye? What are the chances of catching a view of it through a telelscope?

  3. Father Tyme

    There may be better odds that most of us won’t be around to enjoy the spectacle if things continue the way our current politicians run things.
    Also, by then with the dumbing down of science (see Texas Board of Education), sacrificial offerings will stave off the impending catastrophe!

  4. Beau

    Of course Apophis isn’t a danger! We’ll all be dead by 2012 anyway, so why worry about something that might hit the (will be) destroyed earth? ;)

    Although, if by some slim chance the earth isn’t destroyed by a supernova, rogue planet, or some galactic alignment, then the ex-2012ers will have 24 more years to warn the world of it’s impending doom. Geez… after that thought, I almost hope the 2012ers are right.

  5. Ray

    Stipulating for the moment that it won’t hit us, what plan do the eggheads have to keep it from hitting us if the math doesn’t work out?

  6. Kevin

    “Apophis is not a danger”

    Tell that to the members of the SG teams. The Goa’uld are dangerous.

    Get Colonel O’Neill and his team ready.

  7. Messier Tidy Upper

    There’s always some uncertainty caused by various factors like measurement errors inherent in the images, atmospheric distortions blurring out the image of the asteroid, the effects of sunlight radiation pressure on the orbit, and lots of other things. [Emphasis added]

    Otherwise known as the Yarkovsky effect :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yarkovsky_effect

    explanation & more info on that linked above. For those who might’ve been wondering. :-)

  8. Messier Tidy Upper

    We can’t know for sure if the rock will pass through the keyhole or not in 2029, but we can apply statistics and calculate that minuscule 0.0007% chance. And maybe it’s better to think of it as a 99.9993% chance it’ll miss. Feel better?

    No – but only because I already knew that & wasn’t worried about it in the first place! ;-)

  9. Ken

    I am kind of interested in learning about this “keyhole.” What are the physics behind this area where disruption of the orbit would result in a modification of its orbit that would cause a collision? What about the orbital effects of other areas whereby the asteroid may pass?

    Less curious about bad journalism, more curious about the physics. Thanks

    K

  10. Gary

    Three points to remember:
    1. “Journalists” don’t get professional licenses.
    2. “Journalists” are not legally liable for this type of misfeasance (or malfeasance if they know they are ignorant of the facts).
    3. “Journalistic” malpractice is rewarded by publishers.

  11. Jonathan Dooley

    Neil Tyson had some video on youtube about this. He talked about all the possible outcomes if Apophis DID pass through the keyhole, waiting till the very end to say that the odds are extremely slim. That part, of corse, could be easily overlooked by a person who “didn’t take enough science in school”.

    And if it is going to dip below some of the satellites, any chance it’ll be visible to the naked eye? Hopefully that pesky sun o’ ours doesn’t get in the way…

  12. Peter B

    Ken

    The best way to think of the keyhole is to think of your local mini-golf place. Think particularly of a hole in which there’s an evenly shaped mound somewhere in front of the objective. In order to hit the ball into the hole in one shot, you need to aim it with extreme precision – a fraction to the left and the ball will miss to the left, a fraction to the right and the ball will miss to the right.

    That’s what’s going to happen with Apophis in 2029. The keyhole is the term for the region of space that the asteroid has to pass through in order to hit the Earth in 2036. Because the keyhole is barely larger than Apophis itself, it’s extremely unlikely the asteroid will pass through that location. Literally 100 metres either side of the keyhole means the asteroid will follow a fractionally different path over the next seven years, leading to it missing the Earth in 2036.

  13. Sandor

    This near pass seems to me to be a unique opportunity. Wouldn’t it be great to capture this rock and use it for a space elevator?

  14. I’d bet my life savings against an impact.

    That’s a pretty safe bet. If the almost-certainty happens and Apophis misses us, you win. And if Apophis beats the odds* and strikes the Earth, well I don’t think anyone will be caring about money.

    Perhaps we’re approaching this repeated-doomsday-nonsense stuff the wrong way. Instead of trying to educate people (which doesn’t seem to work), let’s just place bets with them. “Ok, so you think the world will end in December 2012? Great. If it does you can have my life savings and all my possessions. If it doesn’t, I get yours!” If they don’t want to sign then tell them to be quiet about the “impending doom” because obviously they don’t believe it enough themselves to bet everything on it. Pretty soon we’ll be rich! Or they will have shut up. Either way, it’s a win!

    * I’m picturing Han telling C-3PO “Never tell me the odds.” Of course, that was the odds of AVOIDING asteroids.**

    ** Yes, I know that was a “bad astronomy” version of an asteroid field and that a real asteroid field would have the rocks so widely scattered as to make it easy to navigate through. Still, “Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 1 to 3720!” just doesn’t sound as dramatic. ;-)

    Maybe the How It Should Have Ended folks could make a “real asteroid field” version of this scene. Han and company head into the asteroid field for cover only to realize that the rocks are so far apart that they don’t provide any cover. Then they’re blasted to bits.

  15. MadScientist

    It’s good to know that the poor little rock won’t be smashed to pieces by the big mean earth.

  16. Dan I.

    Phil;

    I think you missed the really bizarre part of the contradictory statements in the article.

    “Its likely collision with Earth may occur on April 13, 2036″

    So its likely collision with Earth may occur…

    What the heck does that even mean? The likely collision may occur?

  17. Yeah, this is kind of a common panic button with the media isn’t it? Its at least the third time I’ve seen it debunked. One would think that a simple google search would have given the journalist the needed facts to clarify any misunderstandings in Sokolov’s talk.
    Gary’s (#8) point is very valid.

    PS – I am REALLY looking forward to 2029. Because I am assuming that it will be a VERY cool show when it passes that low.

  18. It’s good to know that the poor little rock won’t be smashed to pieces by the big mean earth.

    Now now. Have you asked the poor little rock how it feels? Maybe it’s very depressed and is trying desperately to hit the earth, to end it all in a blaze of glory that would cap an otherwise cold and unnoticed life.

    Where’s that kooky moon lady when you need her?

  19. pontoppi

    Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that if an asteroid the size of Apophis hits the Earth, it will kill everybody. In that case, every person on Earth will have a 1:135,000 chance of death-by-asteroid in the year 2036 (a little more, in fact, if you add the miniscule chance of being hit by another space rock). This is remarkably similar to the tiny one-year risk of dying in a terrorist attack (http://reason.com/archives/2006/08/11/dont-be-terrorized). Does that mean that anti-terrorism activities should receive less funding, or astronomy more?

    The same reference quotes a number of 1:200,000 for death-by-asteroid in any given year. So it seems that Apophis does not elevate this average risk very much, and perhaps that is the most relevant comparison?

  20. RobT

    The problem these days is that responsible journalism doesn’t sell. My friend would come home form work and turn on reruns at 5:00. At 5:30 they would play the teaser for the 6PM news. Instead of interesting items they instead have resorted to scare tactics like “Is your bathroom soap killing you?” or other sensationalized stories. It got to the point she stopped watching the evening news as they all seemed to be the same. It seems that “news” these days is what was sneered at 30 years ago as poor journalism.

    I long for the days when CBS news was a large department respected by others. The days where there were only 3 or so TV news outlets allowed responsibility as everyone would be reporting on the same thing. Now, there are so many “news” outlets they have to one-up the other to get viewers/readers. Both sides, the reporting agencies and the viewers, are responsible for the decline of quality news. People tend to watch the sensational, just look at the rise of “reality” television.

    And with so many ways for people to get their news these days it’s hard to remember a time when 1 man had more sway than any others. And he did not abuse his power as so many would try today. LBJ Famously said “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America”. You just wouldn’t hear that today.

  21. Other Paul

    @TechyDad – what a good idea, getting the credulous to put their gambling money where their mouths are (if that’s not, taken literally, too disturbing an image). I suppose it’s related to James Randi’s million dollar prize. Somebody should put up a website to accept such bets. doombet.org, endisnighgamble.net or something. Should make a penny or two.

  22. Pete Jackson

    @2-MrBrown: Let’s do the math. A magic number in astronomy is 206265, which is the number of arcseconds in a radian, and also the number of Astronomical Units in a parsec. Its 60 arcseconds to an arcminute times 60 arcminutes to a degree times 180 over pi. Another way of looking at it is that it differs from 60 cubed or 216000 by the same ratio that pi differs from 3. Any object that is one unit in size will subtend an angle of one arcsecond at a distance of 206265 units away.

    Apothis is 250 meters across, which is 0.25 kilometer. Hence it would be one arcsecond in size at 0.25 times 206265 or 51,566 kilometers. At 38,000 km, it would then be about 1.5 arcseconds across. A good telescope bound to earth on a good night can see objects about one arcsecond across (unless using adaptive optics, which would be very tough on such a moving object). So, a telescope will be challenged to show that Apophis is not a star, let alone see any detail!

    And the telescope better be agile; assuming a velocity of 10 km/sec, Apophis will cover one arcminute of sky in one second of time, or the moon’s diameter in half a minute of time.

    One the other hand, radar should have a field day with Apophis since it is so close and the radar signal received back on Earth gets 16 times stronger when an object gets two times closer (inverse fourth power of distance).

  23. I really want to post this to Facebook as “Phil Plait says, ‘Apophis is…a danger!'”

  24. jjgboulder

    Snookie’s getting a 3 movie contract? Is that before or after 2012? Gotta prioritize my apocalypses. At least, after 2012, we won’t be around for the inevitable collision with Apophis.

    Cheers,
    John

  25. bystander

    1 in 135,000? That’s a virtual guarantee! Where can I buy my lotto ticket? lol!

  26. rbp

    Of course you’d bet your life savings on a miss. So would I. If I lost, who would be there to collect? :)

  27. mrsnoitall

    Leaving aside the facts that some of us think that people, on a massive scale, should be more educated, have more common sense, research information before they panic, etc. we should keep in mind that: half the caucasian world (not a scientific poll, btw) is building bunkers and hoarding food and guns because there are people out there telling them that on 21 Dec 2012 at 11:11 am a massive solar flare is going to dispatch life on earth, oh no, sorry, the poles are going to shift and the world will start spinning backwards, oh no, sorry again, the earth will be in alignment with the black hole at the centre of the galaxy and it will eat the earth, oh no, darn it, it is that the world is a computer programme and at the date and time there will be a giant hole opening in the sky and if one man can jump through the hole he will save us all!! All of that, of course, doesn’t take into account the asteroids that will hit the earth, and any one of a myriad of other disaster scenarios.

    Does anyone remember the old saw, “If you can keep your head while all around you are losing theirs, you don’t understand the situation.” Come on, guys! If a person (or a massive amount of people) are broke and depressed, can’t see the light at the end of a million dark tunnels, feel alone and tired of the lives they live, can’t find a way to get satisfaction for what they need, or – even scarier – think that The Flintstones were real … of course they are going to grab on to disaster scenarios and pay no attention at all to people who are keeping their heads. And the media, disaster conventions (I kid you not), bunker construction companies (I am NOT making this up!), and seminars being given on how to survive the world falling apart are all fueling that fear.

    So, in answer to your question, “What is it with all the bad media reports of cosmic doomsdays? “. That’s why. And the fact that it sells books and makes money for lots of people. Unfortunately, having tried to convince people I know of the unlikelihood of any of the above, I think educating people is an uphill battle. Doesn’t mean I don’t think it is a good battle to be in, it just is a hard one.

    By the way, Phil, it has been pointed out to me that winning the lottery is a 1:1,000,000 chance but it happens almost every week, so 1:135,000 doesn’t seem so far-fetched.

  28. Teknowaffle

    It is ok, SG-1 will fly a modified Goa’uld cargo ship to the asteroid, in an attempt to blow it up, but then realize doing so would be worse than it even hitting, so they will open up a hyperspace window and fly the asteroid through the earth.

    Roll credits.

  29. Dennis

    This just in: “HEADLINE: Famous Astronomer Says Three Rocks Line Up to Hit Earth!”

    *sigh*

  30. OtherRob

    @RobT, #15

    Instead of interesting items they instead have resorted to scare tactics like “Is your bathroom soap killing you?” or other sensationalized stories. It got to the point she stopped watching the evening news as they all seemed to be the same.

    I stopped watching our local news for the same reason. Let’s not forget that “the news” — local tv news in particular — has a large financial incentive in scaring you. They don’t have nearly the same motivation to inform and/or educate you.

  31. Phil, perhaps you should stop talking about “the media” – a sweeping term that lumps a ton of folks into one superficial pot – when talking about one or two articles by one or two news organizations or sites.

    You (rightly) blow a gasket when somebody blames “bloggers” because they read something stupid on one blog, and you shouldn’t act in a similarly superficial way.

    If nothing else, it makes you sound like a sleazy politico, the kind who blame “the media” at the drop of a bad-news hat!

  32. Donovan

    The world’s gonna end in 2036? What the..? So I just quit smoking for nothing.

    ” And maybe, if we can get to enough folks, we’ll reach a critical mass — a herd immunity, if you will — where nonsense will find it can’t get a toehold.”

    That’s a way to bring back the optimism. I never thought of it like that. If there can be genetic barriers, why not memetic?

    I try to post faux news stories on my facebook with the stupidity clearly pointed out, but I fear too many of my friends are already infected. We need to get to them before the prodromal stage.

  33. Snowshoe the Canuck

    Where’s Bruce Willis when you need him? It’s – 28 C in northern Alberta today, right now a likely collision between a rock and Earth maybe in 2039 is the least of my worries.

  34. Argus

    #2@MrBrown, #17@Pete Jackson: I did the same angular width calculation before realizing that it would be irrelevant for naked-eye observation. To see why, repeat that calculation for something like Alpha Centauri or Sirius. Fortunately, someone did more relevant calculations, and the result can be found at the Wikipedia page for 99942 Apophis (copied from space.com). Essentially, it will be naked-eye visible from the right part of the world if you aren’t too close to a city. Unfortunately, the Western Hemisphere won’t be the right part of the world.

    I also identified out a couple surface features within the solar system with about the same angular width. On the Moon, that corresponds to tiny craters like Collins. On Jupiter, that’s about 2/5 the width (small dimension) of the Great Red Spot. Someone could use one of those for a practice run with a current telescope. Of course, adaptive optics and tracking are matters of technology; who knows what will be readily available by 2029?

  35. The Fermat Liar

    The wiki article linked to Phil’s post says that

    “as of Oct 7, 2009, the impact probability for April 13, 2036, is calculated as 1 in 250,000.[8]”

    – but now the odds are only 1 in 135000? OMG, the odds are nearly halving every year!!! The end really is nigh!!!!! :)

  36. Tim G

    Even with a deadline and a five minute telephone conversation, I could write up a far more detailed and accurate article than that.

  37. jrpowell

    I’m sure by 2036 we will have a hyperdrive that will be able to shift Apophis into hyperspace for a few seconds, thus avoiding the collision with Earth. After all, SG-1 did the same for an asteroid launched at us by Anubis back in 2004. ;^)

  38. Gary Ansorge

    4. Ray

    “what plan do the eggheads have”

    The “eggheads” have proposed several solutions to that problem, all of which require money for their implementation, so, ask your political representative what HE plans to do.

    Gee, 250 meters of rock? I wonder what we could build from all that raw material?

    Gary 7

  39. BLA

    Remember this thing isn’t a planet killer – no extinction level event. So if you lost the bet there is still a decent chance someone would be around to collect. Of course it all depends on where it hits – anyone want to place bets on that?

    I look forward to 2029 and 2036. I don’t think it’s going to hit us, and by then we will have a much better orbit defined, but it should still be interesting. You know the crazies will be all over it then too – like the when the comet hit Jupiter in ’94 (I think).

  40. Daniel J. Andrews

    My first question was, What is a Snooki? I googled it, saw images, and I think I’m better off not knowing what a Snooki is–which I still don’t, and I aim to keep it that way. Pop culture has surely gone downhill since Monty Python days. :)

  41. I’ve said this before: when Apophis first hit the news (before it got its name–google 2004 MN4), it was coincidentally around the time of the terrible Indian Ocean tsunami, and it was somewhat overshadowed by current events. At the time, I tried to figure out how bad an Earth-Apophis collision would be, and what I came up with was that it had an outside chance of being as bad as… the Indian Ocean tsunami. That had just really happened. And I stopped worrying so much about stuff that might have some tiny chance of happening in 2029 or 2036.

  42. Roger

    If snookie gets a 3 movie deal, we will all be begging for something even larger than apothis to put us out of our misery. The drop in your IQ is directly proportional to how many words you hear her speak.

  43. I love the fact that you can just email the guy and get things cleared up just like that.

  44. Pete Jackson

    @28Argus: Of course, observing Apophis from Earth will be just for amateurs. There will surely be spacecraft put near (not in, I hope!) to the orbit to take closeups as it wizzes past, and to fully study it as much as possible (gravity, shape, etc.) just in case a deflection might be needed before 2026. Probably a dedicated deep space mission will be eventually made to approach and land on it well before 2029.

  45. Craig

    Understanding and mitigating risk requires two datums:

    1. Odds of occurrence.

    2. Impact of occurrence. (Note that “impact” is especially apt here)

    I haven’t read anything about how bad Apophis would be if it hit Earth.

    If it would make a fantastic light show and pepper the ground with small craters, with potentially a few deaths, then I’d say 135,000:1 misses to hits are pretty comfortable odds.

    However, if it would wipe civilization or our species, I’d say chances of a miss at 135,000:1 are very, VERY small odds.

    And somewhere in between we have ‘merely’ wiping out hundreds of thousands of people, or ‘merely’ altering the Earth’s climate for the next geologic age. I’m still not too comfortable with that.

    What’s the Risk here? Are we talking 1:135000 chance of a tragedy, or are we talking 1:135000 chance of an ELE?

    If the potential impact is significant enough, then I’d say we would be foolish not to take steps, even at such low odds of collision.

    If, all goes according to the odds, and it turns out not to hit, then we’ve not wasted our investment, we’ve used the opportunity to build up some capability to divert a threatening impactor. This is something we all agree we’re going to need at some point in the future.

    However, if the worst were to happen and, with all the warning we’ve had, we didn’t act… Well, perhaps in that case Earth deserves a reset and another chance at developing intelligent life.

  46. MaDeR

    Sooo… journalists misreports and blabbles nonsense? Whoa! Next time you will tell me that sky is blue or moral guardians are disguisting hypocrites.

  47. Strahlungsamt

    This is not just a case of Bad Journalism. It’s a case of RUSSIAN JOURNALISM!!!

    I’m currently learning Russian, have a Russian girlfriend and consequently hang out with a lot of Russians. Russians believe every freakin’ conspiracy theory imaginable. The Moon Landings were faked, HAARP sent out the rays that caused the Haiti Earthquake and Magnetic Bracelets really work. The less evidence something has, the more likely it is to be true. Scientists are Jewish Freemasons working for the New World Order…. Need I go on?
    Don’t believe me? Read Pravda sometime. They report UFOs like they report real news.

    Russian Woo is a quantum leap ahead of the rest of the World, on a par with their Vodka consumption.

  48. mike burkhart

    You know I think some may have read the scifi novel : Lucifers Hammer and took it way to seriously . For thoses who have’nt : Lucifers Hammer is about a commet that crashes in to the Earth and the aftermath that brings social breakdown anarcy, and after the nations disapper and warlords arise war . The name Lucifers hammer is what the commet is called after it is discovered it will collide with Earth. Another good novel by the same authors is : The mote in Gods eye it kind of like Star Trek and deals with mans frist encounter with Aliens (the name comes from the place the Aliens are found ,in a nebula with a red giant at its center that looks like a large eye and is called God eye.)

  49. Ian

    Since it hasn’t been done yet. Sigh.

    In Soviet Russia asteroid collisions predict YOU.

  50. Charlie

    It’s also a bad thing for this kind of reporting to continue, because it contributes to the impression that scientists don’t really know what they’re talking about. Because once someone has heard enough of these, they are going to start sounding familiar, and they will feel (justifiably!) like they can blow off the warnings.

    But then when something real comes along, like global warming, it just sounds like the familiar sensationalistic tone, and people feel justified in dismissing it.

    It’s the boy who cried wolf. The answer to “who does it hurt?” is “all of us.”

  51. Lorne

    Well all the doomsday soothsayers will need something to tide themselves over after Dec. 21 passes by with no incident.

  52. Roger

    You have to remember, and Jame Randi mentions this in ‘Secrets of the Psychics’, that communism was an alleged scientific philosophy. When communism failed, many of the people lost confidence in science. They needed to believe in something so anything that came along worked, science was not a requirement, in fact it’s probably optional. I’m not excusing their belief in all the woo but it’s just a fact.

  53. CB

    I’ve heard that the Russian space agency was considering conducting a mission to Apophis, to either test the asteroid-deflecting techniques that have been discussed by Phil et. al., or in the event that it does pass through the keyhole and an impact is then considered to be likely, to actually try to divert it.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/dec/30/russia-plan-save-earth-asteroid

    Not sure if anything ever came from the meeting they had, and in the article it still seems rather half-baked. But still, I’m glad some people are taking the problem seriously — where “seriously” definitely doesn’t mean “oh my god we have to do something or we’re all gonna die!” It means actually considering the dangers, and taking advantage of a case where we’re almost certainly not going to die to try to prepare ourselves for a possible future where we may be at risk.

  54. Steve Metzler

    This near pass seems to me to be a unique opportunity. Wouldn’t it be great to capture this rock and use it for a space elevator?

    We’re already on the case. The “World’s Largest Catcher’s Mitt” is due to be launched into an orbit that will intersect the ‘keyhole’ on Friday, 13 April, 2029. Wait… Friday the 13th?! That can’t be a good thing :(

  55. Neil NZ

    After reading the Wikipedia page on Apophis and the possible effects of a 510 megaton impact event, if I am still around in 2036 I don’t think that I will be looking at living near a beach here in the south Pacific.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/99942_Apophis

    “Using the computer simulation tool NEOSim, it was estimated that the hypothetical impact of Apophis in countries such as Colombia and Venezuela, which are in the path of risk, could have more than 10 million casualties. An impact several thousand miles off the West Coast of the US would produce a devastating tsunami.”

    And I think the West Coast of the US might be off my list of places to be as well. :-)

  56. Joseph G

    It’s up to all of us to get out there and teach people how to separate reality from nonsense.
    And I’m not a fool, I know that that’s impossible to do for everyone. But we can minimize it. And maybe, if we can get to enough folks, we’ll reach a critical mass — a herd immunity, if you will — where nonsense will find it can’t get a toehold. Enough people will know better that such antiscience, antireality thinking may become an endangered species.
    And you know what? That’s one mass extinction I can live with.

    Superluminous!
    Herd immunity from nonsense… It’s such a beautiful dream :)

    By the way, can anyone tell me how you indent quoted text?

  57. Joseph G

    @Dan I: Hah, I totally missed that too.
    “It’s likely that an unlikely event is probable rare but in danger of occurring. Maybe. Kinda.” :P

    @CB: I was wondering about that too. I’d think this would be a good opportunity to test some different asteroid-moving strategies in case we ever need ‘em.

  58. Gonçalo Aguiar

    Mass media reporters don’t have ANY sort of education in Astronomy, other than the common Physics that everybody learns in school. Well in fact most people don’t know astronomy enough to judge what reporters write, so things get balanced.
    This happens many times also with Astrology, and with other areas with the same sort of nonsense. Doomsayers exploit uneducated individuals intellectual status to scare them, and make them vow to religious or any other type of mental slaving institutions.
    A dumb and frightened person is more easy to control than a intelligent and free one.

  59. #27 mrsnoitall:
    “By the way, Phil, it has been pointed out to me that winning the lottery is a 1:1,000,000 chance but it happens almost every week, so 1:135,000 doesn’t seem so far-fetched.”

    This is of course completely false logic. The probablility of any given individual winning the lottery in any given week is one in several million – but then, several million individuals buy a ticket each week. So while the probability of any given individual winning the jackpot is miniscule, the probability of someone winning it is pretty high.
    In my country’s National Lottery, the probability of any given ticket winning the jackpot is about one in 14 million – which, funnily enough, just happens to be roughly equal to the number of people who buy a ticket each week. This means that the probability of someone winning the jackpot is roughly evens; the Lottery is deliberately designed that way!

  60. Messier Tidy Upper

    @34. Snowshoe the Canuck :

    Where’s Bruce Willis when you need him? It’s – 28 C in northern Alberta today, right now a likely collision between a rock and Earth maybe in 2039 is the least of my worries.

    It was 43 degrees Celsius in Adelaide yesterday & is going to be 35 C today – it’s already 33 C after an overnight “minimum” of 28 C.

    Can we swap you some heat for some cold please? ;-)

    ****

    PS. Online Celsius Fahrenheit converter site suggests 43 C = 109 F, 35 C = 95 F, 33 C = 91.4 F & 28 C = 82.4 F for those using that weird system.

    Source : (usual)www (dot) wbuf (dot) noaa.gov (slash) tempfc (dot) htm

  61. This sort of media stupidity reminds me of something which happened to a friend of mine, who was the secretary of an astronomical society at the time, back in 1997. He was contacted by a “reporter” from his city’s local paper, who, for some totally unfathomable reason, believed that Comet Hale-Bopp was going to make a close approach to Earth, and that there was a possibility of it hitting us!!! FSM knows where she had got that idea; remember, folks, that the closest Hale-Bopp came to Earth was in fact about twice the distance of the Sun!
    The conversation went something like this:
    “Can you comment on the possibility that the comet might hit the Earth?”
    What possibility? Where the hell did you get that idea? The comet isn’t going to come anywhere near the Earth – and nobody has ever said that it would!”
    “So you don’t think there’s any chance of it hitting us, then?”
    “None whatsoever! The closest it’s going to come to the Earth is about 200 million miles; that’s more than twice the distance of the Sun!”
    “So I can quote you as saying that there’s nothing to worry about?”
    “No, you can’t – because nobody with half a brain has ever imagined that there was anything to worry about!”
    “So can I quote you…”
    “Look – if you’re going to print any of that sort of crap, don’t associate my name with it!”

  62. CB

    @ 59

    “By the way, Phil, it has been pointed out to me that winning the lottery is a 1:1,000,000 chance but it happens almost every week, so 1:135,000 doesn’t seem so far-fetched.”

    This is of course completely false logic. The probablility of any given individual winning the lottery in any given week is one in several million – but then, several million individuals buy a ticket each week. So while the probability of any given individual winning the jackpot is miniscule, the probability of someone winning it is pretty high.

    Heh, indeed.

    If there were tens of thousands of asteroids in similar orbits all with the same odds of hitting earth, then the odds of any one of them hitting earth would be pretty darn scary!

  63. Snowshoe the Canuck

    @60, sure, we can swap some heat for cold.

    No. Cancel that. My car’s heater works, but the car itself doesn’t float too well. With all our snow, we could end up under water like Victoria and South Australia!

  64. amphiox

    Apophis, at 350m in diameter, is not big enough to count as a “doomsday” asteroid, I think. For comparison, KT impactor was thought to be about 10km in diameter. Even an asteroid over 1km in diameter will “only” result in regional damage.

    That said, the Tunguska object is believed to be 50-100m in diameter, so Apophis would still be a significant impact locally.

  65. Steve D

    “If a person (or a massive amount of people) are broke and depressed, can’t see the light at the end of a million dark tunnels, feel alone and tired of the lives they live, can’t find a way to get satisfaction for what they need, or – even scarier – think that The Flintstones were real … of course they are going to grab on to disaster scenarios and pay no attention at all to people who are keeping their heads. ”

    Aww, po’ babies. You have heat and running water. Clean water, free of typhoid, cholera and Guinea worms. Variety in your diet that would have been the envy of kings 500 years ago. Entertainment at the flick of a switch. The lowest crime rate in 40 years. And you “can’t get satisfaction,” so you buy into fairy tales.

    Maybe we need a real existential crisis, as in “I don’t know if I’ll survive the next 24 hours,” to slap people back to reality. The WWII generation was the last one that really understood that prosperity was hard won, not an entitlement, and knew how easily it could be lost.

  66. vince charles

    Steve D:

    No, there were a few points in the Cold War when people gave themselves fair odds only. For example, Stephen Hawking’s wife married him, knowing full well that he had a few years to live. She figured that everyone pretty much had years to live.

  67. Jack Waddington

    What a wet blanket, you are. Ever since learning about Apophis it has given me every reason to live long (if not prosper). You see, I was born on April 13, 1936 – exactly 100 years to the day before Doomsday. What a fantastic birthday gift – I get a REAL bang for a present, and when I go, I’ll have a whole lot of company; that is, until you spoiled it.

  68. Bruce

    Pardon me if this cheapshot has already been taken but, the only way Snooki gets a three movie contract is if it doesn’t involve all or most of her clothing.

  69. David

    I can’t help but think of the expected number of fatalities: 8 billion ÷ 135000 = 60000. Okay, well it wouldn’t be instant extinction of the human race, but it racks up a few thousand no matter how you slice it, right?

    Besides that, wouldn’t it be fun to go after it?

  70. Come on guys, look at the bright side. Compared to all sorts of pseudoscience and woo, at least this claim is falsifiable. We can SHOW them they are wrong. Just wait 25 years! No, now wait, don’t start crying… :-)

  71. Thameron

    “Scaring people is not something I take lightly” And yet you publish a book with a title ‘Death from the skies’? Even if the contents contain the scientifically low odds that title is meant to capitalize on people’s fear.

  72. mike burkhart

    Before we get to hard on the Rusian media.Rember its only been a few decades that they have had freedom of press,in the days of the Soviet Union the media was controlled by the goverment and you were told what to report now, you decide.Besides our media hear has screwed up a lot of times.

  73. Messier Tidy Upper

    @64. Snowshoe the Canuck :

    @60, sure, we can swap some heat for cold. No. Cancel that. My car’s heater works, but the car itself doesn’t float too well. With all our snow, we could end up under water like Victoria and South Australia!

    Oh South Australia is fine – fine & very sunny – no floods here.

    It’s Queensland (in the north-east corner of Oz) that’s been experiencing the recent terrible worst-ever flooding together with some parts of Victoria. :-(

    Other parts of Victoria have been suffering bushfires (What you’d call “wildfires” in the States or so I gather.)

    @57. Joseph G : By the way, can anyone tell me how you indent quoted text?

    Sure. Use [blockquote] and [/blockquote] except switch the square brackets for the ‘greater than /lesser than’ symbol brackets – > & <. :-)

  74. John EB Good

    I think you could have also quote your friend Tyson whom indirectly explained that this sucker is even too small to cause the “End of the World” here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xaW4Ol3_M1o

    T’s’funny to see that the term asteroid is associated immediatly to “impending doom”, but you need something way bigger than that to actually cause a mass extinction.

    If it threads the keyhole right through its center, it will crash in the Pacific ocean, 500 km out from the West Coast. And you know what’s also somewhat funny: this is the worst case scenario. If the thing hits the ground, it will cause actually much less damage than out to sea.

    So it might mean the end of YOUR world if you live in Vancouver or Santa-Monica, but considering the amazing number of bad movies coming out of Hollywood, s’pecially those about asteroids, it may actually make our world somewhat of a better place. :D

    The dinosaurs were wiped out by a 10km mountain (that’s 32000 feet in diameter, roughly the size of Mount Everest) that hit the Earth. 250 meters simply doesn’t make the cut so far as wiping out life from this planet is concerned. (well, depending on where you live!)

    What’s most depressing to me is that, this morning, I’ve read that journalists around here want to get somewhat of a professional status to distinguish themselves from the casual modern blogger. I didn’t find an adress to write to this guy, but I sure would have wished to tell him that there’s an amazing number of blogs, especially in science, that do way better work than them.

    And, as an advice to you, Phil, if you’re ever interviewed for any reason about your domain, remember to only use words shorter than 7 letters. I’m sorry to say, “scattering” has 10!

  75. CB

    @ 73:

    I don’t think there’s any singling out of the Russian media as being particularly bad going on. If anything, it’s noteworthy that an instance of bad science reporting that we heard about came from Russia, instead of British or U.S. media sources. God bless the Internet, which allows us to see how news sources around the globe drop the ball! Kinda gives me a sense of brotherhood with people around the globe; humans are humans, you know? :)

  76. happily mortal

    It’s up to all of us to get out there and teach people how to separate reality from nonsense.

    And I’m not a fool, I know that that’s impossible to do for everyone. But we can minimize it. And maybe, if we can get to enough folks, we’ll reach a critical mass — a herd immunity, if you will — where nonsense will find it can’t get a toehold. Enough people will know better that such antiscience, antireality thinking may become an endangered species.

    not likely. ever heard of the tea party?

  77. happily mortal

    also, sorry if i missed the topic in an earlier comment (i only read the first 15 or 20) but sounds like it’s more likely to cause mass problems with our satellites. of course, depending on WHICH satellites and the impact of their being damaged or destroyed, that could equate to just as bad as global extinction to some people. i can see communications going down for days or weeks, media, even (egads) disruptions for the military (spying, communicating, navigating missiles and drones…). oh dear.

    (personally i can live without my television or cell phone for a while but i wouldn’t want to be a passenger on a jet airliner when suddenly they have no navigation systems or contact with air traffic control.)

  78. Kim

    “But what about that weird bit about Apophis disintegrating and pummeling us like a shotgun?”

    That’s something I would like to know, and we could use the Roche limit formula (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roche_limit) to find out. This formula gives us how close should Apophis approach Earth so it would disintegrate.

    Wikipedia doesn’t give a density estimate, but as we know its estimated mass (2.7 x 10^10 kg) and length (~300 m), approximating it by a spheric cow we get 1.9 g/cm^3. Applying this to the formula we get that it should pass 11,400 km from Earth to get disrupted, or one third its actual approach in 2029. Now, what are the odds that it comes _this_ close in 2036, and Earth gets a ring system? :)

    Of course, those are just back-of-the-envelope calculations. Does this count as bad astronomy?

  79. Joseph G

    Steve D: Amen to that! Especially guinea worms. Egads folks, if you don’t know what they are, please don’t Google them – certainly not before lunch.
    We are so damn lucky, it’s ridiculous.

    For similar sentiments I refer you to “First-world problem” by MC Frontalot. As catchy as it is true.

    @ 80 Arik Rice: Your pronouns are all wrong. The correct syntax would be “What is a Snooki?” :D

  80. Keith Bowden

    “Apophis is not a danger.”

  81. Keith Bowden

    @68 Jack Waddington:

    Forget it! My 49th birthday (12/21/2012) trumps your 100th! Nyah! ;)

    And after a quick Google search, I’m very happy to not really know who Snooki is. (“If I knew Snooki like you know Snooki, oh oh oh – I need a drink…”) Not having TV reception of any kind is great!

  82. templerman

    Wow! What hubris! I remember watching a program on this very same subject on the Science Channel. I then read quite a lot about the odds of being killed by an asteroid and/or comet impact as being roughly equivalent to being killed on a round-trip air flight.
    That struck me as being quite good odds. However, the reverse of those odds can be likewise applied to surviving a plane crash. Now my Father was involved in three airplane crashes. By great skill of the pilots, rugged construction of propeller driven aircraft, or just plain dumb-luck, he walked away from all three of them with just scratches and bruises. There are also several instances of people that have done the same in jets, and experimental aircraft.
    I think the odds of being killed by either were quoted as being 60,000 to one. I think regardless of what the odds are, we should err on the side of caution where our home and lives are concerned. I mean out of three-hundred odd exo-planets, non are even remotely close to what Frank Borman called “…the Good Earth”.
    We waste tones of money on every sort of electronic toy and other gadgets each year. Would it kill us to spend some of that on funding a mission to rendezvous with Apophis in 2029 or even before that. We can check out its composition, (make sure whether it’s solid or a rubble-pile), and If it’s going to hit the key-hole. If it does we will need to take action by building a few space tugs and/or solar mirrors to attach to it and make a course correction, before its 2036 passage.
    Dan Durda, a scientist who studies asteroids at the Southwest Research Institute in Colorado thinks it’s a great chance to check out Apophis. And at 330 meters in size, it’s about seven times the size of the rock that blasted out Barringer Crater a.k.a. Meteor Crater, in Arizona.

  83. Joseph G

    @ 79 Kim: I like your math. Or rather, I like the fact that you can do math. I can’t, and I’m jealous :P I think back-of-the-envelope math is great. It’s a helluva lot better then no math, and when astronomy is involved, you have such huge numbers that getting within an order of magnitude or so works just fine :)

    I don’t think we’d wind up with a ring system, though – my understanding is that it’d take a pretty fancy trajectory (likely involving the moon’s gravity and a little aerobraking) to get an earth-crossing asteroid into an Earth orbit at all. You’d probably just get a string of rocks that stretches out quickly after it passes the earth.
    In the scenarios that I’ve read about where a body is captured by a larger body, there’s usually a third body involved that gets ejected and carries away the excess kinetic energy of the captured body.

    @83 Keith: Oh, how I envy you. A world without TV. I’d get so much done! Oh sure, just turn the TV off, you say. Easier said then done!
    The sad part is, sometimes I think I just turn it on so that I have human voices in the background.
    I should really get a webcam and start using Skype :P

  84. Buzz Parsec

    The reason there are no takers for bets against doomsday scenarios is that there is nothing in it for the believers. Here’s my proposal: I will give you X dollars today, no strings attached. You can use it any way you like. On Dec 22, 2012, you pay me 2*X dollars. World ends, you win (today). World doesn’t end, I win (in 2 years). Of course, I need some sort of collateral, for example the equity on your house. If you don’t pay me, I get to sell your house, pay off your mortgage, and keep the rest. (No deal if the residue is less than the amount you would owe me.) If you try to defraud me in any way. for example by not maintaining your house or burning it down, you still owe me and you get to go to prison for arson or malicious destruction of property.

    We can adjust the payback rate for more distant events. I would need lots more to compensate for not having my money for longer periods of time.

    I need to get a lawyer to polish this up. (I don’t particularly trust the religious zealots who believe in this crap.)

    If we all pool our money into some sort of derivative fund based on this strategy, we can all make a fortune.

  85. Keith Bowden

    @86 Joseph G
    Well, I loathe Comcast and AT&T (their own faults), I have a frigging mountain (well, a really big hill) blocking airwaves, but I have a LOT of discs and Netflix. :) But I also get a lot of reading done (now if I could just get back into the discipline of drawing…)

  86. Thanks for posting this. I’m constantly frustrated by news articles that don’t provide meaningful numbers to clarify what they mean by “likely” or “unlikely”. I like to know exactly how worried to be. :-)

  87. Egill V

    a question from a big fan of this blog and astronomy in general, but where on earth will it pass by the closest in 2029?

    wondering if i should plan a trip to the corner of the world where one would be able to see the bugger as it trails past the blue globe.

  88. Peter B

    Happily Mortal @ #78 said: “…sounds like it’s more likely to cause mass problems with our satellites.”

    No, I don’t think that’s likely. Yes, Apophis will come closer to the Earth than satellites in geostationary orbits. But those satellites pretty much all orbit the Earth above the Equator, and Apophis won’t be approaching the Earth on that plane. It’s the same way an aircraft and a ship can have identical latitude and longitude, but won’t collide because the ship is in the water and the plane is at 10,000 feet.

  89. The problem with this kind of bad-information (intentional or not) is the lots of people who BELIEVE every word published in the newspapers, afterwards takes it to real discusions. And when you try to make them see de wrong in the treatment of the news, THEY SIMPLY DON’T LISTEN TO YOU!!! Even if you have studied, and/or know better about the topic.
    Sadly it happens very often, in my case with my father… Friends you can choose, family you inherit.

  90. diogenes

    @48 You called it exactly right! The V.B.A. could write 100 posts a day on Russian Woo and never run out of material (hmmm…..). Don’t forget that at least one Russian on MIR had regular radio chats with his astrologer. Russia’s three largest exports to the West (in no particular order):
    a) mobsters, b) mediocre physicists (I know at least two who are UFO nutters), c) women who get paid for selling sexual services.

  91. Carl

    Interestingly, Apophis represents an increase in risk of 7.4*10^-6. This is approximately the same magnitude of risk of having a severe nuclear reactor core damaging event in one of the U.S. nuclear reactors operating for one year.

    Note that having a damaged reactor core does not equate to radiation to the public because of the concrete & steel containments (that will be undamaged by a terrorist in an airplace) surrounding the reactors.

  92. An1mal

    I love Dr. Phil but must say this…

    Without a clear cut plan to deflect any and all NEAs…a near miss is BS! Not Good Enough! The eggheads in charge MUST do better!

  93. Joseph G

    @ 94: The eggheads aren’t the ones in charge, that’s the problem.

  94. Stephen Looney

    Okay, so Apophis might not be a danger, but what about THIS one, Mr “The World isn’t Coming to an End”?:
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/milewide-asteroid-heading-towards-earth-poses-greatest-threat-yet-scientists-warn-649383.html

    I think you’ll find that it “poses greatest threat yet, scientists warn”. See? Scientists said it.

    EVERYONE PANIC!!!! (in eight years)

  95. hmmm … all very clever (and funny) arguments … my homies know that Apophis is just a shuttle, it’s passing by so that i can hitch a lift back to my mother ship – i am not at all concerned about it bashing into this lovely blue blob of yours :)

  96. Keith Bowden

    The author of The Independent article has been watching too many bad Hollywood movies…

    However, Apophis would be an excellent opportunity to test deflection – if we could develop the means to nudge it into a different trajectory before 2029 (or the next pass), it would be nice to test the system now when it is not critical than to wait and hope that we have the answer when something does come along that really does pose a danger.

  97. Ilya

    Mrsnoitall:

    winning the lottery is a 1:1,000,000 chance but it happens almost every week, so 1:135,000 doesn’t seem so far-fetched.

    You have to multiply the chances of winning the lottery by the number of people who buy tickets. Once you take that into account, the chances of SOMEBODY winning a lottery is pretty much a certainty. So it’s a very misleading comparison. There is only one Apophis, not millions.

  98. Ilya

    Rbp:

    Of course you’d bet your life savings on a miss. So would I. If I lost, who would be there to collect?

    Not sure if you were joking, but a 250-meter asteroid would “only” take out a mid-size country. It’s not an extinction-level event. So more likely than not, you would have to pay up.

  99. Mark

    No wonder people get scared, look at the animation at the bottom of this Huffington Post page:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/09/apophis-asteroid-2036-video_n_820800.html

    Unless the Earth happens to be 3,000 feet in diameter, I don’t think this representation is to scale….sheesh what a horrible job by HP.

  100. Chris

    What are the predictions for after the 2036 pass? Such as 2043 another 7 years later?

  101. Underspot Bay

    Media? Mainstream media?
    Ticky, Ticky, Ticky… Boum! Boum! Arrghh!

  102. Astronomer

    Well, no one knows when the earth is coming to it’s end, and when it’s happening, you can’t say in the other persons face: HAH! what did i say!? The point of fact is. We are a little planet, in the big universe. If this asteroid will hit us or not, another one might do. Now, i don’t mean to say that another one is gonna hit us, but it might happen, and we can’t do anything about it. So, live your life as long as it is. If you live your life with fear of the day after tomorrow, you can just take your life right away, no need to live long life full of fear, live short and enjoy. :)

  103. neil

    nothing could come at us that we couldn’t see /not even from the direction of the sun as the suns gravatational pull would pull it in to itself therefore getting rid of the possibility of an impact

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