Short summary - NASA did not warn about this - it’s only at warning level 0 and has to be 5 or above to be of public concern. The best fit projected orbit takes it to somewhere out beyond Mars's orbit in December, and what's more, at the opposite side of the sun from Earth on that date. But based on only three and a third days of orbit. If it was going to hit then our telescopes should have spotted it by now. In particular, the new ATLAS early warning system has a warning time of a year for one kilometer or larger asteroids with close to 100% confidence. So I think we are pretty safe from this one.
It is at warning level
- 0. " The likelihood of a collision is zero, or is so low as to be effectively zero" (white)
Every year at least one asteroid reaches level:
- "1, A routine discovery in which a pass near Earth is predicted, that poses no unusual level of danger. " (green)
This one hasn't even got that far. Apophis got as far as level
- "4, A close encounter, meriting attention by astronomers." (yellow)
This is nowhere near to that level of risk. It is only after that, level
- "5. A close encounter posing a serious, but still uncertain threat of regional devastation." (orange)
and above that it is treated as of public interest and that they would actually start to warn people about it.
This is another story running in the sensationalist press about harmless asteroids, leading to exaggerated scary headlines and this is part of my work to write articles that present the same material without the exaggerations of the sensationalist press or even sometimes the conventional mainstream press too. It is to support people we help in the Facebook Doomsday Debunked group, that find us because they get scared, sometimes to the point of suicide, by such stories.
The best fit orbit takes it only a bit within the Mars orbit and most likely as soon as they get other observations they confirm that it is on an orbit like that, which would mean it can’t hit Earth for thousands of years into the future, indeed the best fit orbit would most likely be stable for millions of years into the future.
The Daily Express are running this as “NASA asteroid warning”. But it is not an official warning at all. It is not running in the respectable press because this is not an object of any concern at all. It has only 3.33 days of observation from 2010 and the most likely orbit has it the opposite side of the sun from Earth in December which shows you how little they know about it. The reason we don’t know it better is that though quite large it is in a big looping orbit that took it way beyond Mars, and also was in the dawn / dusk sky much of the time when it is harder to see fainter objects.
It is Torino level 0, and it needs to be 5 to be of public concern at all. At this level it is not even of much interest to astronomers. As soon as we get more observations they expect to remove it from the list of objects they are tracking. They are 99.99999919% certain that this will happen. Astronomers aren’t losing any sleep over this one.
The background you need here is that any year there are lots of asteroids in the table that have potential impact dates in that year. We currently have 39 such objects that on paper could hit Earth in 2019. All have dates when they could potentially hit. The smallest is (2008 EK68) at four meters in diameter - none of it would survive to ground level. The largest is this one, (2010 GD37) which is 1.26 kilometers in diameter.
That may seem scary. But actually, it’s the opposite. First it is Torino level 0. This means the likelihood of a collusion is so low as to be effectively zero:
The likelihood of a collision is zero, or is so low as to be effectively zero. Also applies to small objects such as meteors and bodies that burn up in the atmosphere as well as infrequent meteorite falls that rarely cause damage.
They are regularly removed and there are now over 2000 objects in the removed table. The most likely scenario by far is that all 39 of these objects are removed. Occasionally they are able to track a very small one and predict an impact but one that will just be a bright fireball that we know about in advance. This has happened a couple of times before. With the Chelyabinsk ones then we know about half of them in advance.
These are all asteroids that we wouldn’t even know about without the astronomers. They are all being tracked. We know where they are - well enough so that we can keep track of them. The ones we are tracking cannot surprise us.
We already know 95% of asteroids of 1 km or larger. This is one however is not a credible threat. The only one that is is 1950 DA, at this size, which has a 0.012% chance of an impact in 2880. More than eight and a half centuries into the future.
It is very very unlikely that any of the remaining 5% at this size have any chance of hitting Earth this century, or even for several centuries, once we know their orbits well. The largest undiscovered asteroid is thought to be about 3.5 kilometers in diameter but not expected we find anything at that size of public concern, and we already know all the ones of 10 km or larger and none of those can hit us for millennia.
And even a one-two kilometer diameter asteroid can be deflected. Need perhaps a decade or two of warning to do that, to develop the spacecraft and launch it. But we expect to have more like centuries of warning as for 1950 DA.
If you take the very worst case, it’s that one of that remaining 5% is on an impact course with Earth and hits us a year after discovery. Or perhaps a 1 kilometer comet but that is even more unlikely as short period comets of that size are included in that 95%, and the longer period ones are very rare. Only 1 in 100 of short period NEO’s are comets and long period comets are common but only because they are so easily visible from a great distance - for them to come anywhere near us, it is only a tiny fraction of that 1 in 100.
Anyway let’s just look at that scenario because it is in so many videos and it is vastly exaggerated.
A one - two kilometer sized asteroid is large enough to cause a skyscraper sized megatsunami if it hit in the sea - at this size an impact in the sea is perhaps most devastating immediately. In this the videos are correct for this size. But nobody would die. We’d know the date and time of the megatsunami to minutes and everyone would of course leave the coastal cities along with all precious possessions etc long before that date.
It is large enough for some global effects, an “impact autumn”, a year without a summer. We could cope with that just with rationing. We could nearly double the amount of food for humans by rationing the meat we eat to a small portion a week as for the UK in WWII. That is just taking account of crops grown for animals in conventional agriculture which could be switched to grow human food without even converting pasture to agricultural land.
However to put that in perspective, first we are safer than in any previous century, because we already know 95% of the one kilometer asteroids and can rule them out, and we would know about a one kilometer asteroid or comet at least a year before the impact. And it is very very rare.
Moreover, we haven’t been hit by an asteroid this large since before the evolution of the Neanderthals - they arose 400,000 years ago. The last asteroid of over 1 kilometer in size would be the one that caused the Australasian Strewn Field 790,000-years ago.
The impact crater would be quite small and there are several suggestions of which one it might be and it may also be below the sea floor which would make it harder to identify.
It happened during the time of Homo Erectus and their hand axes have been found amongst the tektites (blobs of rock thrown up into the atmosphere by the impact and melted through their ballistic trajectory in the atmosphere).
Tektites from the strewn field, Image Credit: James Di Loreto, & Donald H. Hurlbert, Smithsonian Institution
Hand axe by Homo Erecturs in the strewn field, Image Credit: James Di Loreto, & Donald H. Hurlbert, Smithsonian Institution
THE DATES IN THE TABLE ARE FOR VIRTUAL ORBITS NOT REAL ONES
However, it’s also important to understand why they are in the table. Most of the ones in the table will be removed as soon as we get more observations.
They are only there because they have had only a few days of observation. Some, only been seen for less than a day. Their orbits are so uncertain we might not even know which side of the sun they will be at the time of the potential impact.
The largest one, that one of over one kilometer in diameter, 2010 GD37 which I got a few PM’s about, has only 3.3331 days of observation. There is a 99.99999919% chance the asteroid will miss the Earth.
They just need one more observation to prove it misses. But we haven’t seen it since 2010. The reason in this case is because it is in a big looping orbit that took it way past Mars and it is only a bit over a kilometer in diameter. This is where they predict it to be, based on their best guess, at the time of the possible collision.
This shows where it is expected to be, with the best fit orbit, on the day of the possible collision.
As you can see, it is expected to be a very long distance away from Earth, almost the other side of the sun from it and further away from the sun than Mars at that time. Also the best fit orbit takes it nowhere near Earth. When they get more observations most likely they confirm some orbit like this one.
But they don’t know for sure, because this orbit is based on just three and a third days of observation. You can draw another orbit through those same observations that hits Earth on the 28th December 2019. Which is the only date it can hit Earth.
However, in this particular case, I think we can rule this one out already because ATLAS, the new early warning system that only became fully functional with its second extra telescope in 2017, can spot 100% of one kilometer objects a year before impact.
So, if it could hit Earth we should know by now. ATLAS is optimized for searching for asteroids on orbits that end up with it hitting Earth. It is not so good at spotting asteroids in other orbits, so it wouldn’t expect to spot it yet if it is not going to hit Earth.
PLEASE IGNORE THE STUPID SENSATIONALIST STORIES
People who get scared of asteroids often start searching obsessively online for all the YouTube videos and sensationalist press stories about the asteroid that scared them.
But they are not astronomers. They get their information from the Sentry table like everyone else. And misunderstand it. Then someone embellishes it and adds fake news to it. Then someone else reads what that journalist wrote and adds more nonsense and so it goes on. Then someone runs a YouTube video and before you know it they are saying it is going to destroy entire continents or something. And then you get the amateur prophets who claim to have seen the asteroid in a dream or say that Nostradamus prophesied it or whatever.
This always happens. There are always dozens of idiots on YouTube and in the sensationalist press who are always eager to say nonsense about any asteroid that goes viral like this. You are best just ignoring them all.
HOW TO CHECK A STORY
First, you don’t need to check an asteroid story like this. If there ever is one of concern to the public, level orange or red, it will be the top story on the TV and in the news. Even if you don’t watch TV yourself, all your friends will be talking about it. Only hermits in caves or uncontacted tribes or such like won’t know about it.
But if you need some reassurance, it is really easy to check. Look in the Sentry table. If the first entry is orange, there is an asteroid of public concern. If red, it is going to hit.
If it is blue then it is like Chelyabinsk, too small to do much damage and since it is being tracked there is no way it can harm anyone. It is like a well behaved tiger that roars when it approaches. So long as you keep out of its way you are fine.
Also for blue ones, as for the others, then for as long as it is Torino level 0 or even 1, 2, 3, or 4 it is not of any public concern. It will need to be 5 or above (for an asteroid of this size, only 5 and 8 are possible) to be of any concern.
That has never happened for an asteroid being tracked. The sensationalist press constantly runs articles on random asteroids at Torino level 0, occasionally asteroids at level 1 and often re-run old stories about Apophis when it briefly reached level 4 that are no longer valid. Even Apophis was never at any stage at a level where it was of public concern.
See also my
ASTEROIDS ARE OFTEN REMOVED FROM THE TABLE
2,246 objects have been removed, ten removed so far this month as of writing this (18th February 2019), and this is what is likely to happen to this one as soon as they observe it again in July.
All those objects would have had a date and time for hitting Earth in a virtual (not real) orbit before they were removed.
As for larger asteroids, we know all the ones of 10 km or larger and they can’t hit us for thousands of years. A million to one chance for Swift - Tuttle in 4479.
We know 95% of the ones of 1 km or larger. Only 1950 DA, has a tiny chance of impact in 2880. There are two more in the table including this one, 2010 GD37 which have 3 and 4 days respectively of observations. We can be pretty sure that both will be removed as soon as we observe them again. And that’s it.
None of the 897 others at this size come anywhere near Earth in the next century. There are only a few dozen left to find at this size, we find one every couple of months or so, and expect them all to miss as by far the most likely situation.
See also my
which has many more links to follow up at the end.
SEVEN TIPS FOR DEALING WITH DOOMSDAY FEARS
If you are scared: Seven tips for dealing with doomsday fears which also talks about health professionals and how they can help.
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