Perform a simple search for "asteroid" in Google News and headlines.
"NASA warns of a 2-mile-wide planet killer asteroid heading for Earth" or "… potential strike date 2022" or "asteroid tsunami … could devastate the US coastline". And of course "… Monster Rock to pass the earth at 1
These are just a few of the stories that have appeared in the past week, mostly in British tabloids that really love weird asteroid stories.
If you read beyond the sensational headlines, you'll usually find the most accurate information about an asteroid that will not reach Earth very soon. This 2 mile wide planet killer? It missed us 1.4 million miles. That's about 6 miles farther away than the moon. You should literally be more worried when the moon crashes into your house.
The misleading headlines and stories use the words that scientists use to talk about space objects and the connotations that have some of the same words in everyday language.
For example, the terms "near-Earth object" (NEO) and "potentially dangerous asteroid" (PHA) are astronomical terms used to categorize objects with very specific definitions. If an asteroid is within 4.6 million miles of Earth and has a certain brightness, the list of PHAs is created. This is really just the method of astronomers to create a very large catalog of objects that are worth keeping an eye on. No other assessment is made of each asteroid to determine how "potentially dangerous" it is before being given this designation.
NEOs fall into an even broader category. When you leave Earth and move around the Sun in the direction of Mars' orbit, you stop about 85 percent of the way to the Red Planet. Everything between this position and the sun could technically be considered NEO.
For non-scientists, it may seem strange to call an asteroid farther away than any human has ever traveled "close," but of course it makes sense to study the overwhelming scale of the universe with astronomers do. The same applies to these "potentially dangerous asteroids". It makes sense to refer to them in terms of the size of space, though most PHAs in our lives pose no potential hazard.
So next time you see a headline screaming about a "gigantic space rock threatening the earth," you can check the same sources I do to determine exactly how worried you should be. In fact, I take this particular giant as an example.
Some outlets have already sounded the alarm when the 2006 Asteroid SF6 appeared, approaching Earth on November 21st. It sounds like a risky stone coming at us from a few headlines. I will review the risk side of the European Space Agency.
The ESA maintains a list of "all objects for which a non-zero collision probability has been detected".
If I click to get the full risk list and look for the 2006SF6 page and catalog number 481394, nothing is displayed. This potential planet crash does not seem to have made the list of the 991 most threatening space objects.
Next, I review the public database of narrow approaches maintained by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory Center for Near Earth Studies. A search brings 2006 SF6 to the point. It is indeed a bit of a giant with an estimated diameter between 919 and 2,690 feet (280 and 820 meters).
This skyscraper-sized space rock could cause real damage on impact. However, the near distance is given as 11.23 lunar distances. That's how it sounds: over eleven times further than the moon or about 4.3 million kilometers. Sorry, but this monster definitely does not threaten the earth.
My point, however, is not that you should not worry about asteroids. As manyshow, the danger of an object impacting space is very real. The biggest threat, however, comes from objects that are not yet included in our catalogs.
The most significant influence of the past century occurred in 2013, when aand triggered a shockwave that has shattered thousands of windows. This space rock had not been observed before it exploded in the sky.
The technologies and techniques used by astronomers have improved so much that new NEOs are discovered each day. This includes some objects that are actually quite close to the earth, although these are usually so small that they would probably burn in the atmosphere if they hit us, asthe case was.
But we still have dead corners, as the impact of 2013 shows. Therefore, in the future, it is imperative not to ignore harmless asteroids, but spend more resources to continue searching the sky and completing our catalog so we will not be surprised.