It has come to my attention that there is a video floating around YouTube with the intent of creating alarm and “ZOMG GOVERNMENT KONSPIRACY !!!111!!!!!ELEVENTY-ONE!!!” type feelings about a totally normal thing that happens every day.
That is, about a space rock.
Let me address this tom foolery on a point by point basis.
- Asteroid TU24 will be within roughly 500,000 kilometers of Earth. Wow, that seems really close, doesn’t it? I mean, the moon is only 400,000 kilometers, or 1.0 Lunar Distances (from here out abbreviated “LD”, meaning a measurement based on the distance between the Earth and the moon). So, TU24 is whizzing by at 1.3 LD! Oh no! It might hit us!
No. But let me tell you why. On January 15 of this year, asteroid 2008 BW2 whizzed by at a close .9 LD. It was in between the moon and us, theoretically. And it didn’t hit us. Why? It’s on it’s own little course, zooming through space.
Think of it like cars on a freeway. They’re traveling very fast, very close, but they rarely hit each other (unless something catastrophic happens). The only way they hit is if one car obstructs the path of another. Which is what makes cloverleaf exchanges so dangerous. But I digress. Think of space as one giant cloverleaf exchange, with earth and asteroids passing each other, close, in haphazard, last-minute choreography.
The difference being that Earth and the asteroids both drive like assholes and will run each other off the road rather than change their orbits.
- Holy shit, this thing is the size of the Sears Tower in Chicago! Wow, that’s scary, right? No. You fail at space, my friend. The asteroid, while indeed a hefty 527 meters is certainly not the largest one to make a close approach this century: Toutatis, know also as asteroid 4179, thought of as being the arguably most likely threat to crash into our planet eventually due to its strange orbit and rotation, came on by in 2004 with all of it’s 2.9 miles of length and 1.5 miles of width. It is estimated that to cause world wide extinction, the proverbial “End of the World”, an asteroid would have to be at least 1/2 mile, and when you do the conversion, TU24 falls just slightly short. It would cause massive destruction, obviously, but not the end of the world.
You also have to judge its impact risk on the Torino scale. The Torino scale compares the destructive power in megatons of an asteroid to the probability of it striking earth and assigns a number, 0-10, 0 meaning “No way is this thing coming near us, and even if it did, it might leave a hole or kill a cow somewhere, but don’t brick in your seat yet”, 10 being “Start reading Revelations now, friend, because we’re going straight to Hell.” Big mamma Toutatis scored a 1 on her little trip. TU24 merits a fat, round 0.
- Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHA’s) and Near Earth Objects (NEO’s) fly by us every day. Two and sometimes three a day. None today or yesterday, which was actually very odd. We’ve never had the “plasma discharge” issue that the second video in this series alleges will occur. They cite Tunguska as being the result of a plasma discharge, but Tunguska actually hit us. If they theorize that even a small meteor with a negligible impact probability is going to cause world wide destruction without touching us, why hasn’t it happened yet?
- The government can’t cover up space rocks. All of the information gathered by professional and amateur astronomers is publicly available from NASA’s NEO program (http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov). Plus, the United States isn’t the only country with observatories and space technology. This just speaks to the egotism of the average American doomcrier. “The government is covering it up!” Yeah, blow me. This is the age of the internet, my friend. If our government covers it up, someone else’s government is still going to spill the beans, and it’s going to get posted all over TEH INTARWEBS. Morons.
I’m not posting the second video because it’s bad science and I don’t want to help it get anymore views. What I’m going to do instead is rant for a minute about doomsayers and astronomy.
Okay, I used to do a lot of community theatre. Nine times out of ten, a cast I was in would have this one specific kind of person. You’d talk about a show, let’s pretend it’s The Secret Garden. Anyway, you’re talking to this person about The Secrt Garden and how much you love “In Lily’s Eyes” and she says, “I only listen to the girl songs, so I can sing along,” and you’re like, “WTF is this shit? You only like something if you can somehow be involved in it?” Yeah, I’m talking about you, Rachel. You wanna go, let’s go!
Anyway, amateur astronomers obsessed with PHA’s and NEO’s are Rachel, and astronomy in general is like The Secret Garden (the version with Mandy Patinkin and Daisy Egan). The Secret Garden (space) is so interesting and complex, with so much to offer as a musical (vast, inky void), but she’s (they are) ignoring like, half the score (phenomenon) to concentrate only on the parts (she) they can sing along with (the parts that directly impact Earth). How short sighted and egotistical is it to assume that the only things of interest are going to be Earth (Rachel)-centric?
I guess my point is, doom freaks are morons, there is stuff way more likely to kill you on a daily basis (GLOBAL WARMING WILL COME TO YOUR HOUSE AT NIGHT AND SWITCH ALL YOUR PRESCRIPTION MEDICINES WITH RAT POISON!), and The Secret Garden is a really good musical.
Edited to add: I also want to point out that there is another TU24 video floating around out there that, along with stating completely incorrect facts (like TU24 is the largest asteroid and closest approach this century) argues that it WILL hit us because we don’t know enough about it. It then states that we didn’t know enough about a comet that recently visited our solar system, proving that scientists know nothing and we’re all doomed. However, I can use that argument to prove anything. For example: “Scientists used to think the Earth was flat, so they don’t know everything, so Cancer tastes like gumdrops!” Yeah, that’s what we call a logical fallacy, kids.