It seems that asteroid-related doomsday predictions have become a staple of science news. Yep, there are asteroids out there. Yep, we’ll eventually mine them. And yep, one passed by Earth just last month, coming within 4.2 million miles of our planet (in space terms, that’s actually pretty close). In 19 years, that same asteroid will have another pass at Earth, but NASA has calculated there’s a 99.998% chance that it won’t hit us. Those are pretty good odds. But some people don’t like being told the odds, and other people prefer to focus on the .002% chance that this asteroid will hit us. I guess maybe it makes life more interesting?
Asteroid 2013 TV135 (what’s with these names?) is roughly 1,300 feet wide, and, if it did hit Earth, it would make a nuclear bomb look puny — the explosion would be about 50 times greater. It was discovered by Ukrainian astronomers on October 8th, but it wasn’t until after astronomers began tracking it that they realized how close it had come to Earth a few weeks earlier.
Although 4.2 million miles seems like a lot — the moon is roughly 240,000 miles away — the International Astronomical Union classifies it as dangerous. In fact, any asteroid that gets within 4.6 million miles of Earth constitutes a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA). Nice job with that non-alarmist URL, by the way.
Based on orbit calculations, it seems this asteroid will pass by Earth again in 2032. Because orbital calculations aren’t exact (makes sense, given that the orbit itself isn’t exact), scientists initially calculated that the odds of the asteroid hitting Earth were 1 in 63,000 (or roughly 1.587%). Good thing the dinosaurs are already gone, right?
But NASA responded with a “reality check,” saying it puts the no-impact odds at 99.998%. NASA points out that the numbers are based on one week of observations, and that additional observations in the next few months will provide information that will improve the orbit calculations. NASA predicts that, as a result, the odds will get better for Earth and may actually eliminate the risk. The asteroid has a current rating of 1 on the Torino scale, which means that it’s a “routine discovery in which a pass near the Earth is predicted that poses no unusual level of danger.” NASA expects the asteroid to soon be downgraded to a O on the scale, which means the asteroid is about as hazardous as a kitten. Or maybe a baby panda.
In February, an asteroid got much closer — 17,200 miles away. Asteroids pass Earth on a daily basis and meteors plunge into Russian lakes. While the possibility of a doomsday asteroid exists, I’ll listen to NASA on this one and choose something else to freak out about.