Short summary for the panicking: Expected to miss and currently classified NO HAZARD. Tiny, most likely for an asteroid of that size is "Splosh in Pacific". Likely many thousands of years before any such asteroid hits an urban area.

It is just a random asteroid, there are many in the table every year with dates that they "could" hit but they are classified as no hazard because they are all expected to miss. The press just pick up one of those many asteroids at random from time to time. Every year many asteroids are removed from the table that had dates of possible impacts that year. It is just one of numerous “NO HAZARD asteroids currently in the table.

Some time in the next century or two then we can expect one of those many asteroids to hit, but if they are being tracked we would have at least ten days warning to evacuate any city. But the most likely thing is that the next asteroid to hit just sploshes harmlessly in the ocean. Hitting a city is extremely unlikely and most likely have to wait many thousands of years for that. An impact close enough to a city to warn residents to watch out for flying glass like Chelyabinsk is more likely and could happen but not nearly as likely as a harmless splosh in the ocean.

This is an example of a “Sensationalist press choose a random asteroid” story. NASA didn’t warn us about it, and nor did ESA. It is expected to miss and is currently classified as no hazard. It’s been in the table for many years, and there hasn’t been any announcement by anyone, just that for no reason, just “pick a random asteroid time” CNET, the Independent, Fox News and various others decided to run stories about it today.

If they find that any asteroid is going to hit then it will be in all the news, the main news, on your TV, etc, and if you are affected then you will be told to evacuate. You can expect over a week of warning for a tracked asteroid like this for any impact. Plenty of time, as major cities are evacuated in less than two days for hurricanes.

However most of Earth’s surface is ocean. Of what isn’t ocean, most is desert, ice sheets, forest etc. This asteroid is currently expected to miss. But some time in the next century there is a reasonable chance of an asteroid of 20 meters in diameter or so to hit us. However most of Earth’s surface is ocean. So, by far the most likely next asteroid impact of any size is in an ocean. Small ones of tens of meters aren’t big enough for a tsunami and up to hundreds of meters can’t make a tsunami unless very close to the shore, within a few kilometers. So by far the most likely is a harmless splosh in the ocean and astronomy geeks and enthusiasts hire a jet to view it from the air.

Of the next 100 asteroids, then by the area of Earth’s surface for oceans, deserts etc, then over approximately the next 10,000 years we can expect:

Forests: 9
Crops:3
Ice sheets or tundra:6
Oceans:71
Grassland: 7
Urban or semi-urban:1
Deserts: 4

meta-chart.com Asteroid Impacts over 10,000 years

For the calculation of those numbers, see Techy details in comment.

Estimates for how often a small asteroid hits us large enough to cause damage at ground level vary by about a factor of two. If a small asteroid hits us every century then it would be on average 10,000 years between impacts on urban areas. If it is more often, every 50 years then it would be 5,000 years. Either way, it’s no surprise we have no records of an asteroid hitting a city in recorded history. It may never have happened in the entire time when humans have had cities and urban areas.

To put it in perspective, if the Egyptians had built an asteroid detection system we would still be waiting for the first city killer impact.

It is important to track them all the same. An asteroid sploshing in the pacific could still sink a ship if it isn’t being tracked, an asteroid hitting grassland or forest could harm nomads or forest dwellers, in cropland it could harm farmers and so on. Three nomads died in 1908 and many were injured after the Tunguska impact and many were harmed by flying glass for the Chelyabinsk impact, all preventable just with an impact warning and advice on how to protect yourself. We also want to be prepared for the very remote chance of an urban impact. We already have an early warning system, ATLAS which spots half of even the 20 meter ones well in advance (below that they burn up in the atmosphere) and many more early warning telescopes are going to come online in the early 2020s including southern hemisphere ATLAS and the ESA Flyeye telescopes. The LSST will help as well once it comes online, not optimized for early warning but it scans the entire sky frequently and is ultra high sensitivity.

Maybe we will have early warning satellites too in the near future, the cost isn’t high for such things, indeed, low enough so that a generous powerball lottery winner could fund it or any of the billionaires in the world. Or any country except the very smallest, if it was to decide that asteroid defence is worth spending a fraction of the amount they spend on defence against other countries, could do this without hardly noticing the expense.

More details here:

Larger asteroids are even rarer and are easy to deflect with enough warning. They don’t have any global effects until you reach around one kilometer in diameter, at which point there begins to be enough dust in the atmosphere to affect crops, and a little larger they can cause a “year without a summer”, but just for one year, have to be really large to affect our weather for several years. For more on this scroll down to LARGER ASTEROIDS AND COMETS at the end of this article.

More details here:

So, back to 2006 QV89. When they say it is the fourth most concerning asteroid in the ESA table, it is a bit like the “fourth most concerning hamster in the world” - the most a hamster can do is give you a bit of a nip, and even the most concerning hamster in the world is not something to be concerned about and the fourth most concerning hamster in the world is no big deal at all.

Hamster - Wikipedia see also Why Did My Hamster Bite Me !

I know the table looks scary to many of you but if you simplify it, then this is what it says:

In this case then - they are all expected to miss.

This asteroid 2006 QV89 is currently outside of Earth’s orbit and to hit us on the only possible orbit that could hit us, it would need to cross from outside to inside of our orbit, and so has to approach us from the night side of Earth. That makes it easy for our telescopes to see it once it gets close, if it is going to hit, on that very remote chance (it is expected to miss).

Actually we can see an asteroid from any direction except close to the sun in the dawn or dusk sky. How close to the sun we can see it depends on how big and bright it is.

When you have a warning of a small asteroid like this, they can then pinpoint its position very well now with the ATLAS binocular telescopes - two telescopes 100 kilometers apart. As it gets closer they can pinpoint it very precisely with the Arecibo radar system, and with ten days of warning will know its position exactly enough to pinpoint it to an area about the size of New York central park! That is lots of time to evacuate. With hurricane warnings an entire city can be evacuated in a couple of days.

They expect to see it some time in July. If they don’t spot it at all however they do not normally update it in the tables. So - if you still see it in that table all the way through to september that does not mean it is a danger. It means it hasn’t been spotted so can’t possibly hit Earth as they’d see it long before then if they did.

This is the ESA risk table as it looks on the page itself. Level 0 there means No hazard.

Risk List - ESA - European Space Agency

Levels 0 to 4 are harmless

It has to reach the warning level 5 for a public warning. Every year a few reach level 1 before they are removed. Apophis got as far as level 4. This one hasn’t even reached level 1.

It really is bizarre how the sensationalist press choose their random asteroids for stories like this. You’d think they would choose a white one, the larger ones. Sometimes they do. But this time, no. They chose one of the small ones in blue.

It’s only 30 meters in diameter, possibly a little larger than the Chelyabinsk asteroid, could be larger, could be smaller as it’s size isn’t well known. Just the brightness. If it is a dark asteroid it’s a little larger than 30 meters, if it is a light one it is smaller. But it can’t be very large.

Here are some of the stories about it:

It got a lot of attention in the Spanish press in early February - again for no apparent reason - this is one of the earlier stories in English

Yet it’s nothing to worry about at all.

This is another article I'm writing 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.

Do share this with your friends if you find it useful, as they may be panicking too.

THE DATES IN THE TABLE ARE FOR VIRTUAL ORBITS NOT REAL ONES

it’s also important to understand why these asteroids 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.

It is expected to miss Earth. This is where it is expected to be on the date of the possible collision:

JPL Small-Body Database Browser

Earth and the asteroid are shown far larger than they really are in these diagrams. To show them to scale they would be much less than a pixel in size.

It would still be 0.061 au from Earth. That’s over 9 million kilometers. A vast distance away.

But again it is based on a short period of observations. Only ten days, in 2006. The reason they couldn’t track it for longer is because it is so small. The telescopes they had watching for asteroids in 2006 couldn’t watch it for any longer. We have larger telescopes searching for them now. But still we won’t see it for most of this year.

Rüdiger Jehn, director of the Planetary Defense Office of the European Space Agency (ESA), is reported as saying about 2006 QV89:

"Now it is too far to see it and calculate its orbit more accurately. From July we will be able to observe it again with 8-meter telescopes. Then we will know if there is risk of impact or, what is more probable, that does not suppose any risk ".

An 8 meter telescope is a huge thing. This is the sort of telescope they will need to use to have a hope of spotting it as early as July:

Subaru telescope, Hawaii. There the blue rectangle outlines a human height door.

Goodness knows why the sensationalist press chose to focus on 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 (2010 GD37) which is 1.26 kilometers in diameter. There are fourteen of them of the same diameter as this asteroid or larger.

That may seem scary. But actually, it’s the opposite.

These are all asteroids that we wouldn’t even know about without the astronomers. They are all being tracked.

WHY THESE ASTEROIDS CAN’T HARM US

Suppose you were going through a jungle and you know it has man eating tigers?

Which would you prefer? Silent tigers or ones that roar in warning at you so you can get out of their way?

It’s the same for these asteroids. We know where they are - well enough so that we can keep track of them. The ones we are tracking are like tigers that roar to warn us if they get close by. This means they cannot surprise us. We are totally safe from them so long as we pay attention to the warning. At worst they could cause damage to property.

For instance suppose that it came on the news that one of these tracked asteroids was going to hit near my house. The astronomers would give me at least a few days of warning, probably more.

I would arrange to visit a friend or relative on that day. Then come back and get a glazer in to repair any broken windows, the most likely damage from an asteroid this small unless it was a direct hit.

Eventually a small asteroid like this will hit us but we will be prepared for it if it is an asteroid we are tracking.

As time goes on we will track more and more of them. The tracked ones are the safe ones.

Before any of them can hit they have to move up to warning level 1 (green) then 2–4 (yellow) then to 5–7 (orange) and then finally go all the way to a red warning 8 -10 (red).

At this size, if they reach the level red of a hit, then at the very worst you are talking about something equivalent to a small hurricane - but only for a few minutes during the impact. Also one we can predict to the minute. Sonic boom, windows blown out. If it landed in a city it would blow over trees and poorly constructed houses from the shock wave.

Yes it could start fires. But there wouldn’t be anyone in the houses, they would have left hours before knowing to the minute when it would hit.

This is a FEMA exercise from 2019. It is not a real asteroid.

They tracked the fictional asteroid and ten days before impact they had pinpointed it down to central park in New York.

If an asteroid was going to hit, and it is one they are tracking like this one, they would have a map like this ten days before the impact. They would know it so accurately because they could use radar when it gets as close as this.

Then they work out the evacuation zone:

Everyone would need to be evacuated from all those zones, but you have ten days to do it.

Note - this is a very very unlikely thing, that it would be headed for a US city. Urban areas only 1% of Earth’s surface and only some cities are in the US.

It is just like with a hurricane but with more warning. The exercise is described here: FEMA Asteroid Impact Tabletop Exercise Simulations

So, you won’t die from it. If it is going to hit your home, what would you do? Stay at home and be burned, or, with ten days warning, leave your home? Leave home of course.

But it is exceedingly unlikely for this to happen, not just for this asteroid but for any asteroid this century. There are thousands of cities. (Hard to estimate how many, some of the issues in counting cities worldwide mentioned here: The 4037 Cities In The World With Over 100,000 People). Although asteroids like this hit Earth every century, not one has hit a city in thousands of years. So the chance of it hitting you or your city is clearly very minute.

They often talk about it being equivalent to some number of nuclear weapons. But that is rather misleading. There is no radioactivity and most of the heat is dissipated in the upper atmosphere.

The Chelyabinsk asteroid was brighter than the sun in the sky for nearby people. But the only danger to them was sun burn.

The worst case is a very steep impact and then the fireball happens at ground level and you get something as bright as a tiny sun momentarily appear in a city. That then could indeed cause fires. But again no radioactivity.

If it falls in the sea then at that size it is just a plop, not even large waves. This is the only mark on the surface that the Chelyabinsk asteroid made, falling into an ice covered lake. It broke a hole in the ice which would soon freeze over again:

Newly Released Security Cam Video Shows Chelyabinsk Meteorite Impact in Lake Chebarkul - Universe Today

I think you can see that something like that could never make a tsunami.

The sea splashes outwards but the asteroid as it hits the sea leaves a big gap behind and most of the water that sploshed out rushes back in and there is nothing much continues outwards except a bit of a ripple, at that size.

Even up to hundreds of meters it is not a tsunami unless it is close to shore, because the waves are short range ones that can’t cross oceans because they don’t have enough energy.

LIKE FORECASTING A HURRICANE - NOBODY NEEDS TO DIE IF THEY LISTEN TO THE WARNINGS

It is like a hurricane. Are there going to be hurricanes in September? How can I know or anyone know in February?

But any asteroid they are tracking is like a hurricane for weather forecasters. The know where it is, and are monitoring it, and they can warn you if closer to the date they find it is goIng to hit.

So there is never any need to worry about an asteroid that is in the tables. That it is there means we know about it. It is all in the public just like weather and hurricanes.

And nobody can hide the sky from us. They wouldn’t want to anyway. With hurricanes it is foolhardy and stupid people who try to ignore it and stay in their houses and have “hurricane parties” and it’s the government and the mayors of the cities and emergency services, police etc that are the ones telling everyone to evacuate. It would be the same if we have a real predicted asteroid impact.

THIS IS JUST ONE OF 14 SIMILAR HARMLESS ASTEROIDS AT TORINO LEVEL 0, NO HAZARD

There were 14 harmless asteroids this big or bigger they could have chosen, all at Torino level 0, meaning not even of much interest to astronomers, never mind being of any public concern. A routine harmless asteroid. This is the official description for Torino level 0:

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.

At this level then they expect to remove them from the table as soon as they get more observations.

There are only 901 asteroids altogether in the table right now. Over 2000 have been removed. It is not even remotely noteworthy to have an asteroid at Torino level 0. Only a few remain there for any length of time once they are observed again.

Here are all the ones of 30 meters or larger in the table with virtual orbits that impact in 2019. Although they all have dates and times for impact this year in 2019, these are virtual orbits not real ones. They are not expected to hit us. Indeed these are all expected to miss, we just need more observations to prove that they do.

To make this table I went to Sentry: Earth Impact Monitoring then I chose “Use unconstrained settings” then set the limiting magnitude to 26 and clicked on the Year Range header to sort by date. Then made a screenshot of the first 14, the ones with the year range starting with 2019.

I set it to limiting magnitude 26 because they also track some very small ones. The smallest that is in the list for 2019 is (2008 EK68) at four meters in diameter - none of it would survive to ground level, and if you go down to this size there are 39 in the table for 2019.

What you need to look at here are the colours. If it is of public concern it will be orange or red for a definite impact. Yellow is better, green is better still, but white is best of all.

None of these are orange or red. They are not even yellow or green.

They are all white or blue. White means no concern at all at present. All set to 0. No concern at all, not even of especial interest to astronomers. Just one of many routine asteroids they are keeping an eye on this year.

The ones in blue here are ones that are so small that the can’t make a crater unless the asteroid is unusually solid (an iron meteorite perhaps) or hitting soft ground or snow.

Asteroids of this size are not of much concern especially since they are being tracked.

They expect to remove them all, just as they did for all the similar asteroids in previous years.

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 prophecies 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

SOMETIMES THE RISKS GO UP BEFORE THEY GO DOWN - THIS IS NORMAL AND NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT

Sometimes the impact risk may increase before finally decreasing. This shows how that can work:

Asteroid Impact Probabilities - Why asteroid impact probability goes up, then down.

If this happens it is normal. For instance maybe when an asteroid is first discovered you don’t know which side of the sun it will be on the day of the possible impact. A bit later you find out that it will be one side of the sun rather than another. Well, it’s a 50/50 chance that it turns out it’s the same side as the Earth is. So the target is smaller as in that diagram so the probabilities go up. Maybe it is even in the same quadrant. But as you get more observations, you find it is a million miles away from Earth (say) and then the risk goes down to zero.

If when this one is observed in July the probability goes up this will not mean it is going to hit. Suppose, say, the probability goes up to 1 in 1000. That will still mean that it is 99.9% certain to miss, but needs more observations.

Most likely though they prove it misses already in July.

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.

Sentry: Earth Impact Monitoring

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 one of them, 1950 DA, has a tiny chance of impact in 2880. There are two more in the table including (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

LARGER ASTEROIDS AND COMETS

Larger asteroids are even rarer. One kilometer in diameter is the smallest size of asteroid to have some global effects. A little larger than that and we can have a “year without a summer” due to dust in the atmosphere. The last time we were hit by one that large was 700,000 years ago, before modern humans or neanderthals evolved. Homo erectus, an earlier tool using ancestor would have gazed in wonder as it fell. Statistically, we are not likely to be hit by one of those again for hundreds of thousands of years.

We also are tracking nearly all of the very large ones, 95% of those of one kilometer or larger. The largest undiscovered near Earth object is likely to be around 3.5 kilometers in diameter, and we know all the ones of ten kilometers or larger, the size of the dinosaur killer impactor, and none can hit us for thousands of years. There is one asteroid of just over one kilometer in diameter, 1950DA which has a tiny chance of impact in 2880, another that is expected to be removed from the table soon, and chance that the remaining 5% at that size do anything in the next few centuries is tiny. That means we have plenty of time to deflect them, essentially we have eliminated this risk with a near certainty.

Even with a decade of warning we can deflect one of hundreds of meters. For instance Apophis which is due a close flyby in 2029, has a tiny tiny chance of an impact in the 2060s. It flies close by in 2029 and 2036 and what it does in the 2060s will be very sensitive to its position during those flybys. On the very remote chance that we find it hits, then we have plenty of time to deflect it.

At 370 meters in diameter, it is not large enough to have global effects, even if you can't deflect it then you can just evacuate the impact zone and for sure nobody needs to die. It is also one of the easiest to deflect, even putting 225 x 225 square meters of solar sail type mirror material (250 kilograms) on its surface in the optimal position could do the trick to change a direct hit to a miss 18 years later by a comfortable margin of over 30 Earth radii. See

As for long period comets, they are common enough but come into the solar system at all angles, usually further from us than the sun at their closest, and the closest any has got is Lexell’s comet in 1770 at over six times the distance to the moon (apart from one tiny fragment that came a little closer).

Compare that with asteroids that fly past at that distance many times a year, and you can see that the risk from these is minute. They also can be deflected, with a couple of years of warning, if we have systems in place to do it. But those systems would likely not be used for millions of years. It would be hard to motivate a fleet of rockets on standby for this purpose that needs maintenance for millions of years between uses.

We need a dual purpose system for these. One possibility that’s been suggested for long period comets is to use an infrared laser array such as would propel the tiny solar sails to another star system for Breakthrough Starshot. If you spot a 5 km diameter comet two years before impact, it is easy to deflect it with a 100 gigawatt laser array with a few minutes use a day. To be able to deflect comets from any possible angle, you need either an orbital laser array, or two such laser arrays, one in the northern hemisphere and one in the southern hemisphere. See my Methods for deflecting asteroids for details.

SEE ALSO

CORRECTION

  • 19th June 2019 Sorry typo in the intro I said "ten years warning to evacuate any city" - I meant "Ten days warning" - fixed

MORE DETAILS ABOUT THE SPLOSH

There is no tsunami at this size unless it is a strong iron meteorite hitting close to the shore, and even then - it would be no worse than a storm surge and do hardly any flooding because the wavelength of the tsunami is so short, tsunamis from earthquakes are typically 100 km or more and can travel vast distances without dissipating and travel far inland also as they surge in towards a coast.

The short wavelength waves from an asteroid splosh dissipate quickly, break up if they approach shallower water, and can’t travel far inland because the trough is only a short way behind the crest. For details see this comment I made on my Did you know, NASA have NEVER issued any ASTEROID ALERT - most likely future warning: Tiny Asteroid to Splosh Harmlessly in Pacific Ocean, which is based on "Near and far-field hazards of asteroid impacts in oceans" March 2019 in Acta Astronautica.


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