Just to be clear: asteroid YU55 is no danger to Earth

By Phil Plait | November 7, 2011 9:46 am

Tomorrow, November 8, the 400-meter-wide asteroid 2005 YU55 will glide past the Earth, missing us by a very comfortable margin of 320,000 kilometers (200,000 miles). This distance is three-quarters of the way to the Moon, and is in fact so far that you’ll need a decent telescope to see it at all.

However, I’m starting to see rumors that the asteroid will have an effect on us. I expected this — it happens every time there’s a decent-sized rock that whizzes past us. That’s why I wrote a post about it a few months back, but I want to follow up on it. Why? I’m getting wind of some folks worried about YU55, including a couple of notes on Twitter saying there are people blaming Saturday’s earthquake in Oklahoma on YU55!

Let me be clear: no asteroid, YU55 or otherwise, can cause earthquakes as they pass. Even Ceres, the largest asteroid in the solar system, would have to practically skim the top of our atmosphere to have any real effect on us. YU55 is dinky, and will miss us by 25 times the diameter of the Earth!

And c’mon: why would it shake up Oklahoma? Japan, Turkey, Chile, California — there are dozens of seismically active spots on Earth that are more prone to earthquakes. Someone claiming an asteroid causing one in Oklahoma should set off alarm bells in your head*.

I’m sure there will be other claims as well. People will squeeze whatever they can out of this event. I saw it happen in 2008 when a similarly-sized rock, 2007 TU24, passed by us at a distance of more than half a million kilometers. Things got so ridiculous with the doomsday scaremongering back then that I made a video to alleviate fears. I’ve embedded it here; all you need to do is replace "2007 TU24" with "2005 YU55", and the 530,000 km miss by 320,000 kilometers, and all the stuff I said back then still applies.

And for those of you still prone to worry, let me add this: I was right. And when was the last time an end-of-the-world doom crier was right?

Let me give you a hint: Never.

Not that this will stop them. There’re two things I know for sure: they’ll never admit they were wrong, and there will always be something else. The next asteroid, the next full Moon, the next star they think will explode, a pole shift, whatever.

As long as people aren’t familiar with the reality of the situation, there will be fearmongers to take advantage of the situation. That’s a big reason I do what I do, and why I have to do what I do.

Image credit: NASA/Cornell/Arecibo


* You’d think at least they’d claim it was last week’s solar flare that did it; after all, it’s Oklahoma, where the solar wind comes sweepin’ down the plain…


Related posts:

No, 2005 YU55 won’t destroy the Earth
A city-block-sized asteroid will swing by Earth on November 8
Asteroid 2007 TU24: No Danger to Earth
2007 TU24: Told ya so

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience, Astronomy, Debunking

Comments (68)

  1. UmTutSut

    Oh, sure. No threat. Just wait until the Bugs steer the damned thing into Buenos Aires! ;-P

  2. ashcom

    I noticed and article that suggested the Oklahoma quake was possibly linked to fracking.

  3. Anchor

    Thanks for that Phil. It’s nice to have an antidote to the insanity of headlines that scream “HUGE asteroid headed for Earth!”.

  4. Jay

    I concur it is nice to have an antidote to the ramblings of the insane. On a different note, I know we always talk about the impact to planet Earth, but one question I got this morning from a student (I’m a teacher) is what would happen if an object like YU55 impacted the moon? What would be the impact to the moon and would there be any impact to the Earth? Outside of having a new crater and ejecta being blasted out I don’t see a lot of impact (one kid said imagine the Death Star in ROTJ after it had blown up and how it looked from Endor). So I would ask you the expect Phil, what would be the impact if one like YU55 hit the moon? Just so you now tomorrow we are making our own craters using the time old educational method to show/reflect this.

  5. James

    To quote the philosopher Ron White: You can’t fix stupid.

  6. How about viewing information? I would really like to see this asteroid if it is possible.

  7. James

    This one is no threat…

    …but the next one might be.

    If this leads us to invest more money into finding and tracking near-earth asteroids, and having some measure in place for diverting one that is on track to hit us, then I think a little public concern isn’t a terrible thing, so long as it’s not pseudoscientific crap.

    This one is going to miss us, but the next one, maybe one with a lower albedo that we’re not seeing with our current detection scheme and instruments? Better safe than extinct.

  8. VinceRN

    You entirely neglected to account for the alien extra-dimensional space ship behind the asteroid. And remember, just because the world has never ended before doesn’t mean it won’t today…

    On day, one of these doomsayers will be right. It has to happen. There’s always someone saying the world will end for this or that reason. One day,e eventually, it will. Some lucky doomsayer will be right. But at least we won’t have to listen to him gloating…

  9. Kevin

    Where the solar wind comes sweepin’ down the plain? Really? I’m an Okie, Phil, and I have to say that was a definite groaner. :D

  10. Maria

    One day your world WILL end. The end.

    Also, I’m with #3. What would the results be if an asteroid of this size were to impact the moon. Would the results be visible from earth? Would there be a dust cloud around the moon? If it was to be observed could it be used to study the composition of both the asteroid and the moon like in the impact test done a while back?

  11. DanVeteran

    I predict the Haliburton Hurricane steering machine will be used to try and finish the job it started with Katrina. Watch out New Orleans.

  12. Jay

    If you want to find out where to view the asteroid and have a telescope that will do this, you can go to http://ssd.jpl.nasa.gov/?horizons

    and chase it down there. You can also go to:

    http://www.minorplanetcenter.org/iau/MPEph/MPEph.html

    You’ll need accurate positions for the asteroid. Ephemerides are available from JPL Horizons or the Minor Planet Center (MPC) ephemeris generator. You can also load the latest orbital elements from the MPC into your planetarium program to get accurate positions. Be sure to specify positions corrected for your location on Earth (topocentric correction). The asteroid will be close enough that this matters.

    If you are into/or do astro-imaging there is an article where I can this information from in Sky & Telescope located here at:

    http://www.skyandtelescope.com/skytel/beyondthepage/131161943.html

    Finally, a more simplistic way is to download the free planetarium software Stellarium and then go to this link over at Cloudy Nights and you’ll find a Windows 7 or XP code to enter to have the satellite show up there. You can print a finder chart in Stellarium. Hope that helps. Here is the link to CloudyNights (an amateur forum):

    http://www.cloudynights.com/ubbthreads/showflat.php/Number/4902094

  13. The solar flare will light YU255 on fire, causing it to go supernova, which will send a gamma ray burst directly at the earth, which will cause the dinosaurs to come back to life, which will make the filming of Jurassic Park IV much more interesting. I have incontrovertible proof: the aliens who manufacture my tinfoil hats told me.

    See how much more fun that was than “nothing will happen”?

  14. AnonRealist

    So there have never been massive natural disasters on earth caused by asteroids, comets, volcano’s, earthquakes, or solar storms? Earth doesn’t wobble at regular intervals? Larger magnetic fields don’t cause earth to come into compliance like hydrogen molecules in an MRI machine? All previous predictions of disasters made by astronomers, geologists, etc have been wrong, but not you the magic skeptic, right… Never have a large % of all species at a given time disappeared in a short period of time? A large magnetic Pole shift hasn’t occurred, I guess NASA is in on the hype too then? I’m glad you cleared that up, I had been relying on science, fossil records, geological records, anthropologists findings, and written history, but some bitter guy holding two spheres up a good distance from each other sure makes me feel confident. Who is the scientist and who is the bitter hand-waving man clinging to his desire for an unchanging world…

  15. Robin Byron

    “…after all, it’s Oklahoma, where the solar wind comes sweepin’ down the plain…”

    I lived in Broken Arrow, OK for ten years and can tell you the worst winds came up from the southwest (Oklahoma City). I always figured it was just Sen. Coburn shooting his ignorant mouth off, again.

    Here in SC near the beach, we get a few gusts from the west (Columbia, SC ~ Appalachian Trail defense, disenfranchising workers and minority voters) but it’s been pretty quite of late and I’m worried about what’s coming.

    @UmTutSut ~ I see you had a quiet weekend at home, as well. ;) (AMC or FX I think it was) “The only good bug is a dead bug.” and other Heinlein silliness but I’ve read everything he ever wrote.

  16. Just goes to show: the gods are really bad at playing marbles. Fortunately!

  17. CraterJoe

    @UmTutSut
    Nice Starship Troopers reference. :)

  18. reidh

    Just 2 B clear, your show is good. your site is good, but can you understand my lack of trust that WE have the ways and means, RIGHT NOW to do anything about an NEO if it were discovered to be likely to hit US? the fact that the Powers dat B will not trifle with even so Tiny an object to prove that they could alter its orbit substantially, etc. Proves rather that they most likely KNOW that they could not, neither have any certainty of the outcome.
    Am I speaking english well enough to be understood here?

  19. mike burkhart

    I wonder is this related to that guy who frist said the world was going to end in May? and then said that it was going to end in October? Or is this some other doomsday prophet that miss read the Bible? Off topic : Phil you said its hard to be a skeptic on Halloween, I think you should keep in mind that just because you watch a movie or tv show about :Ghosts, Vampires, Zombies ,and Warewolfs dosen’t mean you actuly beleve in them or have to. I don’t beleve in Vampires but I read Dracula (and Sherlock Holmes vs Dracula) . I read them because there good storys not because I beleve in Vampires. Now if I was part of this “Vampire culture” that would indacate a that I beleved ,but I’m not. So Phil take it easy on Halloween, even a skeptic have fun on that day.

  20. Chris L

    @Jay
    Perhaps your students were listening to Dr. Plait’s former rhetorical punching bag, Richard C. Hoagland. Hoagland is telling his followers (and I am NOT making this up) that YU55 (which is actually a spaceship that looks a lot like a Borg Sphere) will hit the Moon, that it’s course was altered by the comet/space ship that is/was Elenin, and that it will herald a new era of consciousness raising here on Earth. And I bet you all thought the guy was crazy.

  21. Joseph G

    Phil said: And for those of you still prone to worry, let me add this: I was right. And when was the last time an end-of-the-world doom crier was right?

    Let me give you a hint: Never.

    Not that this will stop them. There’re two things I know for sure: they’ll never admit they were wrong, and there will always be something else. The next asteroid, the next full Moon, the next star they think will explode, a pole shift, whatever.

    It pains me to say it, but I admit that in my younger and more credulous days, I actually believed in a lot of this loopy woo (planet Nibiru, Richard Hoagland, Velikovsky, Edgar Cayce & “earth changes,” etc etc). I listened openly to a lot of really goofy stuff, and it was with some trepidation that I passed the year 2000 (when a lot of this stuff was supposed to happen). When the prophesied period had come and gone , I started looking more critically at past apocalyptic predictions, and realized that there had been plenty of them. All of which, of course, failed to come true. This was a big part of my “journey” towards becoming a skeptic.

    So this is what I don’t get: if someone as very credulous as I was could become disillusioned by all these predictions repeatedly failing to come true, why then does anyone still listen to these people!?

  22. Kat

    @reich
    the powers that be may not warn us, but every amateur astronomer on this planet would be screaming their heads off on every media outlet available, letting us know this ‘roid is “incoming”…..

  23. Hampus

    Im still pissed Anakin turned to the dark side.

  24. Joseph G

    @#7 Maria: Also, I’m with #3. What would the results be if an asteroid of this size were to impact the moon. Would the results be visible from earth? Would there be a dust cloud around the moon? If it was to be observed could it be used to study the composition of both the asteroid and the moon like in the impact test done a while back?

    I’m not sure about items 3 and 4, but I’m certain it’d be visible from earth.
    Here’s a very cool link showing a smallish rock (about 10 inches wide) hitting the moon:
    http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2006/13jun_lunarsporadic/

    If a basketball-sized object can create a flash visible to ground-based video cameras, I’m sure the impact of a quarter-mile wide rock would be visible to the naked eye :)

  25. Tod R. Lauer

    Just to be picky, Phil…

    Ceres has 0.0128 the mass of the moon, but tides go as the third power of distance, so tides from Ceres would top those from the moon at 90K km out, over twice as far as the geosynchronous orbit. Interior to that R^3 comes up pretty quick, and things would be pretty nasty even if Ceres only came as close as geosynchronous…

  26. Chris L

    @Joseph G.

    To answer your question, there is a very strong desire to believe. People like Hoagland give their audience an (illusionary) edge on the world because they get to know “what’s really going on”. A very complicated and scary world can be easily understood if you have the right guru to explain it all to you. The will to believe this guru is so strong that no amount of actual data will dissuade some from that belief. In fact, the believers are very likely to turn on anyone disrupting their fantasy. The suspension of disbelieve must be maintained at all costs. It’s a tough one for logic and reason to go up against. The best you can do is to try to convince those on the fence that they are worshiping a god who bleeds.

  27. RobT

    @UmTutSut and @CraterJoe – I hope that is a reference to the book not the terrible Verhoevian movie that sucked – “in your pants”.

  28. Phil,
    I totally agree with your efforts to temper the fearmongering with this kind of thing, and I applaud you.

    However…. have you ever thought that in this case getting some people stirred up isn’t necessarily so bad a thing? People SHOULD be afraid of Near Earth Objects much more than they are. We are not funding research and technology on this subject proportional to the danger. If the fear gets people contacting their politicians and saying to fund deflection technology, then I say that’s a good thing.

    My point is that you may come off the layperson as saying “dont worry about it”, which is what you say in the post above. When really what science communicators should be saying every time this happens is “see, we get buzzed all the time, we need to fund research before the big one gets us”. I think we are getting distracted by the skeptical angle of knocking down the nutters when we should be focusing more on the technical angle of garnering support for planetary defense.

    What do you think?
    – Ben H.
    Mission Control, Houston, TX

  29. Blargh

    @ ashcom

    I noticed and article that suggested the Oklahoma quake was possibly linked to fracking.

    Are you saying cylons were behind it?

  30. Michael Swanson

    Yeah, yeah. No threat. Sure. That’s why you’re sending us a 3 year old video! Because if you made a new one, we’d see that you’re doing it from your secret bunker under NORAD! Well, you and Elvis and Hitler’s brain can’t fool us, you rotten billionaire astronomer tool of the state!

    But I’m not worried. You’re bunker won’t save you, and I will laugh at your demise, science boy, when I am safe aboard the astral spaceship with my real friends, the Pleiadian Overlizards!

  31. Michael Swanson

    @14. AnonRealist Says:

    “…who is the bitter man…?”

    Project much?

  32. puppygod

    @ reidh

    We may not have the technical capacity to launch Bruce Willis to alter orbit of incoming rock just yet, but altering orbit doesn’t exactly exhausts list of our options. Good old evacuation, if applied early enough, could reduce body count of Tunguska-like event significantly. And that is possible right now. We have good enough math to calculate trajectories of flying rocks to predict whether they hit Buenos Aires vicinity or miss our planet by 320 000 km.

  33. Carl

    If anybody is having trouble picturing how much this asteroid will miss us by, try this for scale:

    Picture a standard-sized basketball court, and imagine that the Earth is a basketball sitting on the floor directly under the hoop. This asteroid is like throwing a pebble at the basketball… and not even getting the pebble inside the three point line.

    (On this scale, by the way, the moon is a tennis ball somewhere close to the sideline).

    Exactly.

  34. Maria

    @14 There’s the scientific and historical records and legitimate theories derived from them and then there’s irrational fear mongering.

    People who squint at every SDO image and insist digital noise is Planet X or who point at well tracked objects like YU55 as “secret killer NEOs” firmly fall into the latter.

    The people who want to fund NEO research, because they understand that it’s only a matter of time until the earth is hit by something big, are champions of the former. Most people who want NEO research funded do not run around screaming doom for every rock that whizzes by. (Maybe we should??) I would say that Phil falls into that camp.

    And speaking of funding…
    @28 It would be great if that’s what happens. But the doom gurus get many people worked up in a froth so they spend money, time, and energy on their books, films, and survival stuff. A doom guru has gotta earn a living you know. At least till that end comes. The underlying story is that ‘We Are Doomed!’ – therefor any reasonable action like petitioning the cockles of our governmental politicos so they fund research get’s shoved aside like a half baked pie filled with “what’s the point?” filling. The main idea of many of these doom scenarios is that it’s already too late and it’s everyone for themselves now.

    @24 That’s really neat. Indulge one more question please, have any objects the size of Yu55 hit the moon while we’ve had the technology to observe it? Or even in the past when our ancestors watched the moon (Though, I guess it would be hard to know the size of older objects that collided with Luna.)

  35. Chris

    OK this has been bugging me. That picture of the asteroid is from the Arecibo radio telescope. Why does it look like the sun is illuminating it from the side, shouldn’t it just look like a ball since the radio waves come from earth and look at it? Maybe I’m missing something here, or maybe it’s just an oddly shaped piece of rock creating an optical illusion, but which is it?

  36. Eric

    You say the asteroid will have no effect on us. I can prove you’re wrong. Just look at all the blog posts and youtube videos that exist that wouldn’t if this asteroid weren’t coming as “close” as it will!

    … ok, maybe blog posts and youtube videos aren’t as apocalyptic an effect as some people want to say it’ll have, but that does count as *having* an effect, doesn’t it?

  37. Scott

    Inverse square does not apply on the internet.

    The farther away and smaller an object is, the stronger the gravitational effect and thus higher risk of doomsday type catastrophe.

  38. Michael Swanson

    Phil? Can you make the next one hit the Moon? Because that would be awesome!

  39. johnthompson

    So, as a good astronomer (Tod Laurer) said , another fundamentally flawed post by the B.A.
    On the same note, a near miss by something the size of Mars would generate enough energy thru the tidal force to LIQUIFY the earth’s crust.

  40. Tod R. Lauer

    @38

    I teased Phil on a minor point that had nothing to do with his major point that the close encounter of YU55 is trivial. The post is fundamentally correct, not flawed…

  41. Michael Swanson

    @41. johnthompson

    “…another fundamentally flawed post by the B.A.”

    How so?

  42. Infinite123Lifer

    VinceRN said:

    “One day, one of these doomsayers will be right. It has to happen. There’s always someone saying the world will end for this or that reason. One day,e eventually, it will. Some lucky doomsayer will be right. But at least we won’t have to listen to him gloating…”

    bahhahaahahahahahahahah. LMAO

    Joseph G said:

    “So this is what I don’t get: if someone as very credulous as I was could become disillusioned by all these predictions repeatedly failing to come true, why then does anyone still listen to these people!?

    I wonder the same thing. I think you possess critical thinking skills and an analytical mind which many others do not have, or they do not try to access, or they are just lazy and like being ignorant as opposed to finding the truth. I also like what Chris L said @26. But perhaps it is more simple, or like

    James Said:

    “To quote the philosopher Ron White: You can’t fix stupid.”

    @28. I had the same question about the “a pox on anitvaxxer’s” post a couple days ago. I thought that rather than condemning these people as ignorant criminals that we should try to educate them and seek to improve on the future through that education. Thinking about this for some time…………I think by condemning them it Does raise awareness to others. Those who are not willing to “seek the truth” (as Joseph G kinda explained) will never be willing to find it. And as Chris L mentioned there is an inherent drive to “believe” in something, and many do not care to take the time or effort to check on what it is that they believe. Presenting the facts and calling out liars is an all important step I think. Garnering support for planetary defense is a great focus to have. It is positive, it is inspiring and it is the right thing to do, (someday it could save billions of lives…it could be the greatest defensive maneuver of all of our known history) however, there are SOOO many different types of people. The nutters need their nuts cracked and the inspiration for advancing science is kinda rolled up in Phil’s message of “what is really going on” IMO.

    AnonRealist said:

    “I’m glad you cleared that up, I had been relying on science, fossil records, geological records, anthropologists findings, and written history, but some bitter guy holding two spheres up a good distance from each other sure makes me feel confident.”

    It is nice to have things presented as simply as possible sometimes, along with the more difficult information. I think teaching or educating has long been about both: as simple as you can make it & the facts presented; which is what Phil does very consistently IMO. Simply, many people do not have the expertise or the where with all to interpret scientific data.

  43. Peter B

    reidh @ #18 said: “Just 2 B clear, your show is good. your site is good, but can you understand my lack of trust that WE have the ways and means, RIGHT NOW to do anything about an NEO if it were discovered to be likely to hit US?”

    Right now? Possibly not, depending on how massive the NEO is, and how long it will be before impact. In these situations, time and mass matter.

    Additionally, as Puppygod explained, for an object the size of YU55 hitting the Earth, evacuation from the affected areas would be an option.

    “…the fact that the Powers dat B will not trifle with even so Tiny an object to prove that they could alter its orbit substantially, etc. Proves rather that they most likely KNOW that they could not, neither have any certainty of the outcome.”

    I don’t see how you can make that claim. For one thing it was discovered less than 6 years ago. It takes longer than that to put together a proper space mission. For another, why fiddle with it when it’s obviously not a concern at the moment. And for another, we’ve already shifted the orbit of a comet with a spacecraft impactor – do you remember Deep Impact and Comet Tempel 1. So we’ve at leasted demonstrated the technique.

    “Am I speaking english well enough to be understood here?”

    Just about.

  44. @Infinite123Lifer

    You make a good point in response and I agree.

    I suppose what I really want is a post that both condemns the nutters and points out how this IS an important and dangerous issue. It wouldn’t be much longer to include that point. My issue is that Phil is trying to counteract the doomsdayers by very strongly saying “don’t worry” to the point of being a bit hyperbolic (as pointed out by a few readers who saw a flaw in his “close flyby” speculation). A rational person who doesn’t know much about space might read this post and think “oh, okay this stuff isnt all that big a deal.” When in fact it IS a big deal just not for the reasons the fearmongers present initially.

    Thoughts?
    – Ben H.
    Mission Control, Houston, TX

  45. Wzrd1

    OK, the risk is, if it WAS on a collision course with Earth, currently, we can do nothing about it and potentially, a city could have a nice, large chunk taken out of it.
    On the up side, if it WAS on a collision course with Earth, the Earth is really big compared to that asteroid, cities are really small compared to the Earth and few in number, so the chances are greater it’d take a dunk in the ocean or other some sparsely inhabited part of the Earth.
    As it’s going to miss, that point is moot, other than as a warning to keep the NEO program well funded for early detection, so something can be planned to deal with a future (distant future) threat.
    As for the current close encounter, there IS a GREAT risk. An incredibly high risk.
    Of scientists around the world losing sleep, whist either monitoring, measuring, radar imaging and straining to see this rare event.
    And with due respect, Phil, an object of YU55’s mass CAN cause massive earthquakes and other phenomena. If it’s moving around 95% C or greater. ;)
    As such objects do not exist in the universe because they’d disrupt passing even a star, it’s a moot point. :)

  46. Infinite123Lifer

    For Ben. H

    YU55 is an ideal situation to garner awareness and support about the future of any planetary defense. I also agree that the big picture of important and dangerous issues should be addressed as often as possible.

    Cheers

  47. Benjamin

    “Not that this will stop them. There’re two things I know for sure: they’ll never admit they were wrong, and there will always be something else. The next asteroid, the next full Moon, the next star they think will explode, a pole shift, whatever.”

    I have to wonder, what proportion of these people are also global warming deniers?

  48. Steve

    Thanks for reposting that video, Phil. I find it amusing how all of the doom and gloom people gloss over the fact that all of their predictions about the world ending have been 100% wrong in the past. Funny how they omit their own accuracy record when making their current predictions.

    Science, bitches – it works.

  49. *Very* well said & explained BA – both last time and this time around. Thankyou. :-)

    Sadly, I’m sure there’ll be many more occassions that talk will need wheeling out – every time a small asteroid or comet comes anywhere nearby.

    Once I would have thought that Humanity had advanced from the days when a passing comet or asteroid or eclipse brought terror to those uninformed and was exploited by those selling anti-comet pills, conspiracy theories and doom-crying. I would have thought once that people generally knew enough basic science not to be taken in quite so readily anymore. Sad to find that’s not the case although I’m no longer even surprised by the silliness some folks will fall for.

    (NB. For the latest update on the BA blog – this one – courtesy of NASA click on my name.)

  50. Messier Tidy Upper

    @18. reidh : “Am I speaking english well enough to be understood here?”

    No. ;-)

    Just 2 B clear, your show is good. your site is good, but can you understand my lack of trust that WE have the ways and means, RIGHT NOW to do anything about an NEO if it were discovered to be likely to hit US?

    Right now I don’t think we could deflect an incoming asteroid.

    But three things to consider ’bout this issue :

    1) The good news is there isn’t one out there and we’ve been looking & checking pretty hard.

    2) There are a lot of good ideas which are technologically plausible solutions, some of which include using a “gravity tractor” or a mass driver and even painting one side of the asteroid white to use the pressure of sunlight to deflect it. Carl Sagan mentions this in his superb Pale Blue Dot book (Chapter is titled “Marsh of Cimmeria” if I recall right.)

    3) As Sagan points out in the conclusion to that chapter, NOT having the power to move asteroids may actually be a good thing to some extent. Because if we can move asteroids away from impacting our planet, we – or unscrupluous nations / parties can also move the same asteroids *towards* impacting into Earth as well! :-o

    Best course of action is probably to keep searching for, discovering and then studying Near earth objects and to make sure we know well inadvance if something is likely to strike us. Only when we *really* need to use the asteroid /comet shifting technology should it be developed although we’re well advised to launch many (and manned) missions to explore asteroids (& comets) take place so we have a lot better ideas of their likely properties.

    Hopefully, we will most likely have a very long “lead” time to act fromfinding an object oncollision course until the impact date.

    PS. I don’t think its a question of “trust” so much as knowledge and understanding. I do trust the BA and other astronomers and am pretty sure the rest of us can too.

  51. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ : Aaarrggh! Typos & out of edit time. For clarity :

    Best course of action is probably to keep searching for, discovering and then studying Near Earth Objects and to make sure we know well in advance if something is likely to strike us. Only when we *really* need to use the asteroid / comet shifting technology should it be developed although we’re well advised to launch many (and manned) missions to explore asteroids (& comets) so that we have a lot better understanding their likely properties. Hopefully – & most likely – we will have a very long “lead” time to act from the time we find an NEO on collision course to the predicted impact date.

    Is what I intended to have as the final draft above.

    ***********************************************************************

    @46. Ben H. :

    I suppose what I really want is a post that both condemns the nutters and points out how this IS an important and dangerous issue. It wouldn’t be much longer to include that point. My issue is that Phil is trying to counteract the doomsdayers by very strongly saying “don’t worry” to the point of being a bit hyperbolic (as pointed out by a few readers who saw a flaw in his “close flyby” speculation). A rational person who doesn’t know much about space might read this post and think “oh, okay this stuff isnt all that big a deal.” When in fact it IS a big deal just not for the reasons the fearmongers present initially.
    Thoughts?

    Agreed. :-)

    Best to *both* debunk the Hoagland type Conspiracy theorists *and* also remind people that the threat of bolide impacts while small and not from this particualr rock is real.

    But I will add that you (or the BA in this case) can and may be well advised to do thees things separately in separate posts.

    I’m certainly NOT getting the impression that the BA is denying the real potential for trouble NEO impacts have. Not after reading his second book especially! ;-)

    *******************************************************************

    @47. Wzrd1 :

    On the up side, if it WAS on a collision course with Earth, the Earth is really big compared to that asteroid, cities are really small compared to the Earth and few in number, so the chances are greater it’d take a dunk in the ocean ..

    Hmm… I could be mistaken naturally but from what I gather an ocean impact is actually worse due to the generation of tsunamis which would potentially wipe out *many* cities and devastate the coastlines of many nations simultaneously. :-0

    The best case scenario, OTOH, would be an impact hitting :

    .. some sparsely inhabited part of the Earth.

    The sparser inhabited the better. Deserts, steppes and taiga /tundra. Places like the middle of the Sahara, maybe Antartica, the Gobi etc. would be best. The far reaches of Siberia would be ideal.

    Which does make you wonder about our “luck” with the 1908 Tunguska impactor hitting just there! Co-incidence?* ;-)

    —————
    * Yes.

  52. fernando

    phil, honestly, you should read a little more… are those all the books you have?

  53. Nigel Depledge

    AnonRealist (14) said:

    So there have never been massive natural disasters on earth caused by asteroids, comets, volcano’s, earthquakes, or solar storms? Earth doesn’t wobble at regular intervals? Larger magnetic fields don’t cause earth to come into compliance like hydrogen molecules in an MRI machine? All previous predictions of disasters made by astronomers, geologists, etc have been wrong, but not you the magic skeptic, right… Never have a large % of all species at a given time disappeared in a short period of time? A large magnetic Pole shift hasn’t occurred, I guess NASA is in on the hype too then? I’m glad you cleared that up, I had been relying on science, fossil records, geological records, anthropologists findings, and written history, but some bitter guy holding two spheres up a good distance from each other sure makes me feel confident. Who is the scientist and who is the bitter hand-waving man clinging to his desire for an unchanging world…

    Heh. But this little rock won’t hit the Earth, and it won’t have any effect on the Earth.

    What is the relevance of all the other … er … stuff you bring up?

  54. just wonderin if anyone knows why is FEMA storing sooooo many i think millions of coffins??? i think is strange all this is not right

  55. Nigel Depledge

    Reidh (18) said:

    Just 2 B clear, your show is good. your site is good, but can you understand my lack of trust that WE have the ways and means, RIGHT NOW to do anything about an NEO if it were discovered to be likely to hit US? the fact that the Powers dat B will not trifle with even so Tiny an object to prove that they could alter its orbit substantially, etc. Proves rather that they most likely KNOW that they could not, neither have any certainty of the outcome.
    Am I speaking english well enough to be understood here?

    No.

    Carl (33) said:

    If anybody is having trouble picturing how much this asteroid will miss us by, try this for scale:

    Picture a standard-sized basketball court, and imagine that the Earth is a basketball sitting on the floor directly under the hoop. This asteroid is like throwing a pebble at the basketball… and not even getting the pebble inside the three point line.

    (On this scale, by the way, the moon is a tennis ball somewhere close to the sideline).

    Exactly.

    Erm . . . what’s that in cricket pitches?

  56. Nigel Depledge

    Wzrd1 (47) said:

    On the up side, if it WAS on a collision course with Earth, the Earth is really big compared to that asteroid, cities are really small compared to the Earth and few in number, so the chances are greater it’d take a dunk in the ocean or other some sparsely inhabited part of the Earth.

    If an impactor WERE to hit the ocean, the chances are it would be more destructive than if it hits land, because of the large tsunami it would generate (which could take out several cities, not just one).

  57. Messier Tidy Upper

    @52. MTU :

    Carl Sagan mentions this in his superb Pale Blue Dot book (Chapter is titled “Marsh of Cimmeria” if I recall right.)

    So cl0se but wrong spelling. Turns out according to wikipedia :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pale_Blue_Dot_(book)#Chapters

    Its chapter 18 – The Marsh of Camarina which is a reference to a historical story :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kamarina,_Sicily

    that applies nicely here as a metaphor.

    If you want you can hear Carl Sagan explain why here :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VikLpZ6Al64

    himself. Amazing what you can find on Youtube ain’t it? 8)

  58. Daniel J. Andrews

    On MSN (or whatever news page my hotmail defaults to when I sign out) yesterday there was a headline Asteroid Skims Earth’s Atmosphere. I didn’t bother clicking on it. It seems someone saw the headline Asteroid Shaves Past Earth’s Atmosphere (the first line says, “The closest observed asteroid yet to skim past the Earth without hitting the atmosphere, was reported by astronomers on Sunday.”), and didn’t want to just copy and paste so altered the title.

    @AnonRealist (14). Getting ready for the Wizard of Oz production? (i.e. scarecrow – – – strawman).

  59. Sakurita

    Why put Buenos Aires as example, it made me freak out, I live there =(

  60. Nigel Depledge

    @ Sakurita (63) –
    Haven’t you heard?

    Buenos Aires is the closest city to the South Atlantic Anomaly, where the Earth’s magnetic field dips down close to the atmosphere. That’s where we have the least protection from all things spacey, including meteorites!

    So, they’re all going to hit Buenos Aires.

    [I just realised that I suck at Poes, so for the record, I just made all this stuff up, except that the South Atlantic Anomaly really does exist].

  61. Peter B

    Sakurita @ #63 asked: “Why put Buenos Aires as example, it made me freak out, I live there =(”

    “Starship Troopers” reference I think. :-)

  62. Peter B

    erick @ #56 said: “just wonderin if anyone knows why is FEMA storing sooooo many i think millions of coffins??? i think is strange all this is not right”

    Where’d you get your information? I Googled “fema coffins”. The first non-conspiracy theory site I found was a Popular Mechanics article which said (a) there were about 50,000 at a particular site and (b) the site belonged to a private company. See here: http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/military/news/4312850

  63. And when was the last time an end-of-the-world doom crier was right?
    Let me give you a hint: Never.

    In fairness, end-of-the-world criers can only be right once. Just sayin’…

    (I’m being difficult, yes I get your point :p )

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