This is another in my now rather frequent articles to reassure people who are panicking because of news stories, saying that there is a chance we will all die in a big future cataclysm. No, this is all total bullshit! (I can use the word bullshit because here in the UK it is a very mild word, not even a swear word quite, e.g. often used on prime time TV, though I understand it is  a strong word in some parts of the States).

It's all over now, but perhaps this story will be educational for those of you who panic about such things. It all blew up from a story that we would get an asteroid flyby on March the 8th. And this asteroid has now flown past safely!

The whole thing started when NASA released a statement saying it would miss us, but could come as close as seventeen thousand kilometers, or could miss us by millions of kilometers.

Many people found it really hard to understand how they could be so sure it would miss us, and yet have a possibility of getting so close, closer than GEO, and also be unsure if it would get that close or miss us by millions of kilometers. How could they be simultaneously so sure and yet apparently also so unsure?

The reason is that because of a short discovery arc, they didn't know where it would be exactly - but all possible positions lay more or less along a straight line - and this straight line missed Earth by 17,000 kms.

So that is why they were sure right from the beginning that it would miss Earth. 

Then - to make things worse (for the now already confused public), they changed the flyby date from 5th (estimated) to 8th.

How could they be so unsure even of the flyby date yet be sure that it would miss Earth? Somne journalists had a field day about this.

Well they never were sure it would flyby on the 5th. That was just the first possibility depending on which of that long range of possible positions it was in.

And then they found some pre-discovery observations of the asteroid - very common thing to happen, search through the archives of other telescopes and find images of it that were not recognized as photographs of an asteroid before. As a result they could predict it would miss by millions of kilometers and refine the date to the 8th.

Originally there was a tiny negligible chance of an impact in 2017, but that also was disproved, as you'd expect from an originally 1 in 250 million chance.

With the new prediscovery observations they also proved that it won't hit Earth this century.

We get many flybys of asteroids every day. They are harmless if they are on an orbit that means they won't hit Earth this century which is is true of all the currently known asteroids. Indeed on March 8th we got flybys by two other meteorites both larger than the one all the news fuss was about.

One of the stories, really poorly researched, indeed shockingly bad (I won't boost their click through count by giving them a link from a reputable news site, so here is a link to the story on my facebook timeline) - posted this video as an alleged simulation of a strike by it - it is actually  a reposting of a discovery channel visualization of an impact by an asteroid 500 km in diameter. Not a 30 meter diameter asteroid :). Way way over exaggerated. And we don't get asteroids this big any more. Our solar system has settled down and only gets much smaller ones.

Retitled repost of:

Original here Discovery Channel - Large Asteroid Impact Simulation

But impressive though it is - there is no chance at all of such a large meteorite impact.

Another frequently shared image in this context is this one

That's actually an artist's impression of a planetoid hitting the early Earth by Don Davis. The last impact on Earth this big was getting on for four billion years ago.

This is a great visualization of a really large impact on Earth. But - this can't happen. not now.

There were impacts this large four billion years ago. But the solar system has settled down since then. There have been no impacts much larger than 10 km for the last three billion years. 

The asteroids in the asteroid belt are reasonably stable - there are tiny chances of collisions in the very long distant future, in particular, there is a chance of Vesta hitting Ceres but not for millions of years. There is a 0.2% probability of collision every billion years. Their orbits are stable for at least the next half million years so any collision would be well beyond half a million years from now.

As for asteroids beyond Jupiter, Jupiter protects us, simulations show. And we now have plotted the positions of all the asteroids of 10 km or larger between Jupiter and the Sun. Even a 10 km asteroid would be visible long before it came within Jupiter's orbit so at least half a year before it got here, maybe much more. And likely to do flybys before impact. And the chance is really tiny.

They happen every 100 million years on average. Last one 66 million years ago. One chance in a million every century. But since all the NEOs inside of Jupiter are not headed our way this century that reduces it to a 1 in ten million risk.

So, in summary:

  • zero chance of 500 km asteroid impact.
  • Tiny chance of 10 km one - 99.99999% certain it won't happen this century. And would have at least half a year of warning and probably a lot more if any of them did come this way as they'd come from beyond Jupiter and we have telescopes looking for them every night taking wide field multigigabyte images several times a minute.
  • Is a risk of ones of 1 km upwards but they also are getting discovered at one per month and 90% of those also known of the NEOs already. Will reach 99% known by the 2020s. Not likely to find one headed our way as they are so rare - it could happen but with only 10% left to find of the ones in NEO space, it is already rather unlikely.
  • Biggest risk soon will be from the smaller 100 meter ones. These could desroy London and devastate an entire small country. And if we were to fund the B612 Sentinel satellite, at only half a billion dollars, we could find all of those as well within 6.5 years.

Here in the UK we will soon debate renewing Trident, weapons of mass destruction on a submarine, at a cost that some estimate at 100 billion. For that amount we could fund the Sentinel telescope 200 times over. So any of the wealthier countries could fund this easily. Indeed many billionaires could also, and in the process. almost completely retire the risk of a large impact. Except in the case of one headed our way in which case with a decade of warning, you could deflect it with only centimeters per second delta v - not even need nukes, conventional explosives will do. With a close Earth flyby in between, you would need only microns per second delta v and it might well be that simple measures such as painting the asteroid white would prevent the impact.

See also, my

Giant Asteroid Headed Your Way? - How We Can Detect And Deflect Them which goes into it in a lot more detail.

And as for Nibiru - this is such a nonsense idea. The main protagonist is a lady who claims to have an undetectable chip in her brain by which she is told things nobody else knows by extra terrestrials. And her followers have almost a religious fervour to the way they promote this Nibiru nonsense. They have not even the tiniest shred of understanding of astronomy. She runs a blog, which I won't boost its click count by linking to, where the rules of the blog are posted that you can't criticize her - if you do then you are banned as a member. And she will choose to answer some of the questions put to her and all others will be deleted - she says that only the ones approved by the extraterrestrials are answered. She posts numerous posts there and gets asked many questions by her many followers.

Note her first rule:

"No debunking and disruption. Debunking and disruption will lead to a ban. If you do intend to embrace any main establishment lies you will be suspended without any explanation. REASON paid debunking teams can completely disrupt discussion, as has occurred elsewhere."

And this is her list of people you must not mention in comments on her posts - probably quite a good source for Nibiru debunking. For instance if you mention Phil Plait's posts (of "Bad Astronomer" fame), you will be banned immediately with no warning. See: Establishment Lies

I'm not listed there yet :). But I'd not recommend linking to my articles on Nibiru on her comments :).

I wrote a debunking article, but as you'll see from the comments, still get numerous comments from people who don't understand astronomy and who are scared witless by the videos and "news" stories about this planet.

It was a challenge keeping up and answering them all at first, but now, thankfully, there are a few others who are now helping to answer all the scared posts I get there. Many thanks to them!

In 2003 the lady who predicted it recommended that all her followers kill their pets, so that they would not suffer during the cataclysm. Of course it never happened, we are still here. Some people have contemplated suicide including one person who posted to my blog saying he had contemplated suicide, but got some relief from his anxiety reading my article.

That's the reason I do these posts because there are people who genuinely do get very scared by these ideas. And I really mean, extremely scared. Can't stop thinking about it night and day.

There are still many people who are scared that this nonsense bullshit Nibiru will hit us some time this month, and will probably only really relax when April comes in. 

But then it all starts again as some of them are already predicting April and others say 2017. It just goes on and on. Even though if you had any kind of an orbit good enough to predict a flyby even of an asteroid of any size, you'd know the time to within hours, and within a minute if you knew it would hit Earth. Get the date of the flyby out by a few hours and it will miss by many times the distance to the Moon.

Their ideas show they don't thoroughly understand the heliocentric view of the solar system. They think that it is possible for a planet with an orbit of 3600 years to remain at the opposite side of the sun from the Earth, with our orbit of once every year for decades on end. Predicting that it will hit Earth in 2003, 2008, 2012, and just about every year since then and sometimes several times a year, different months also. Saying that it has been hidden behind the sun all this time. And got here somehow from beyond Pluto without ever being visible in our night sky. In "confirmation" they post videos and photographs of offset lens reflections (which would make it visually as big as our sun), lens flares, bright clouds at sunset and sunrise, becuse they think it is only visible at sunset or sunrise for some reason, with the sun still visible in the sky just after sunrise, or just before sunset. Again they don't seem to realize that an object close to the sun at sunrise would be close to the sun at midday from another part of the world. And have no idea what a planet looks like in the sky. And their default assumption about any bright spot in the sky that they can't identify is that it is a planet due to hit Earth or fly close past it. Which they think is easily visible in photographs taken with a mobile phone, if you happen to photograph it at the right time of day - yet not known to astronomers or else intentionally kept secret to stop us all panicking.

There are many other absurdities in their ideas, but that one about the orbits and the geometrical absurdity of the idea of a planet with a 3600 year orbit remaining the opposite side of the sun from a planet with a one year orbit for years on end is so easy for anyone to see with the smallest amount of astronomical knowledge - so a good one to start with.

If anyone reading this, who has somehow found this article, e.g. in searches for Nibiru news, believes that, you don't yet properly understand the Copernican idea that the planets orbit the sun. You might find it useful to learn a bit of basic astronomy. From a course on astronomy for beginners, or from astronomy magazines, or books, or distance learning, or whatever method works for you.

I wouldn't bother debunking such nonsense if it wasn't that it gets so many people so scared. And for some reason, it gets so much publicity in newspapers that should know better that my posts are not adding to the publicity and hopefully help attract a few readers to more informed writing on the topic.

Do see my Imaginary Bullshit Planet Nibiru article for more information and hopefully reassurance if you are one of those affected

If you worry about such things - please realize that there are many really poorly researched news stories out there. Many of them have clearly never been run past an astronomer. And if they have dramatic over the top predictions, they get right to the top of the google news feed and will get loads of clicks.

So - if you see such a report - well - hopefully this hsa given you a clearer picture of the real situation.

If you want to check if it is genuine, just go to the Current Impact Risks. page. If you see an entry in orange or red, it is genuine. Go to any reputable astronomy news page, e.g. EarthSky or or Universe Today and it will be their top story. The chances are that even if it hits red, it will eventually be reduced to a blue or white because that's how these probabilities work, if it starts off even quite a high probability, unless it is near certainty - then the most likely thing is the probabilities go down until finally they prove it misses..

If you only see blue, green, white or yellow then there is nothing to be concerned about, ignore it, it is sensationalist journalism bullshit which we get several times a year.

So far, the highest any has gone since this system was introduced was the top of the yellow range, briefly. See my Giant Asteroid Headed Your Way? - How We Can Detect And Deflect Them

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