UPDATE - NO HIT - AS PREDICTED BY ASTRONOMERS - The red top tabloids were quoting from something astronomers said 16 years ago. They aren't like the false prophet date setters. If they give a date they also give a time and timezone, just as they do for eclipse forecasts. It was 11:47 UTC (same as UK time in winter) . That's over an hour ago now.
Back in 2002 the astronomers said that 11:47 on Feb 1 was the only virtual orbit that hit Earth. They later proved, later the same month, that it was not on that orbit which is how they knew it would miss and why the sensationalist press news was sixteen years out of date and reposting a story that was sensationalist already back then.
It crossed Earth's orbit on the 8th January, and it was closest to Earth (which was lapping it on the inside in its shorter orbit) on 13th January at 16:50. It's last observation for the current orbit prediction was 21st January and it is traveling further away every hour. At 12:00 am on February 1st according to JPL the distance to 2002 NT7 was 69.1 million kilometers, 42.95 million miles, 0.462 au
I am getting many panicked PM’s and posts about this harmless asteroid. And can you blame people when they see this sort of thing in Google News if they search for “2002 NT7”? (See screenshot below).
Science 2.0 posts often go to the top of the search results briefly so I hope to reach a few scared people this way.
This asteroid is nothing to worry about, it flew past on the 13th January and is currently moving up North out of the plane of the ecliptic and away from us. This shows where it is right now as of 30th January 2019:
What’s more they have observations going back to 1954, and the most recent observation is from January 21st, more than a week after it flew past Earth. They know its distance accurate to 100 to 200 km out of now around 67.9 million kilometers (as of writing this on January 30th).
You can follow its movement in the orbit diagram here.
It's next flyby is in 2028. They have worked it out through to 2200 and each time it is more than 50 million kilometers away.
So why does Google show so much fake news? It’s because, goodness knows why, it runs stories by the UK red top tabloids. The same creative minds that brought us “Freddie star ate my hamster”
It was a made up story. Nobody ate anyone’s pet hamster.
Here in the UK then they are easily identified by the distinctive red band. When you buy one of those in a newsagent, you know what to expect. Google News simply shouldn’t run these stories at all.
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And, here is my news story, now at number 1 in Google News (Science 2.0 is good for that)
I'm writing this as founder and admin of the Facebook group Doomsday Debunked, which has been set up to help anyone who is scared by these fake doomsdays. Do join it if scared or if you want to help us with the debunking of stories like this.
SO WHAT ABOUT THE 11:47 TIME AND 1ST FEBRUARY DATE?
The sensationalist press make a big meal of this. That the astronomers back in 2002, when there was one chance in 60,000 of it hitting Earth, said that the only chance it had of hitting was on 11.47 on 1st February 2002.
The sensationalist press reason, “How could they give such a precise time if they didn’t already know it would hit?”
Well, to explain, this is what they had on 14th July 2002 for the predictions for January 2019.
At that point, based on the observations so far, it could be any of those white dots. Earth is the tiny blue dot.
It had only a tiny chance of hitting Earth. Because it could even be the opposite side of the sun from the Earth. But the astronomers said that if it did hit Earth the only chance was on 11:47 on February 1st 2019.
How could they be so specific about the time if it wasn’t going to hit?
You need to understand about virtual orbits.
This shows the idea - just with straight lines,
If you had an asteroid going in a straight line towards Earth then the first one or two observations wouldn’t be enough to show that it misses but by the third observation we know it does.
However there is a virtual orbit that hits Earth and that virtual orbit of course has to hit Earth on a particular date and time. If it was even a few minutes early or late, Earth moves so fast around the sun, that it would miss it completely.
So, that’s how you prove it misses. You work out the virtual orbits and prove it misses by proving it is not on any virtual orbit that hits Earth.
How else could you do it? How can you prove it misses without being able to tell the difference between a virtual orbit that’s a hit and a miss? And how can you tell the difference between a hit and a miss for a virtual orbit without having a time exact to the minute or two, for the hit?
So - to have a virtual orbit and then later on prove it is not on that orbit - that's normal.
There are over 2000 objects that have been removed from the Sentry table so far. It is the same for them all. They all originally had virtual orbits that hit Earth on particular dates in the far future but then were proved not to be on those orbits.
In this case with the first few observations they didn’t even know which side of the sun it would be in January 2019. Already by 28th July they knew it would miss.
The other white dots there are the sun, Mercury at lower right of the sun and Venus to the left of it.
By June 1st 2018, nearly 16 years later, this was the prediction:
I got these images from this video:
There's the usual rubbish circulating about (89959) 2002 NT7 which was at the top of impact risk tables for a few days back in July 2002 for a possible impact on 2019-Feb-01. Here's my calculation (SOLEX12) of how the uncertainty region at 2019-Jan-28 evolved as the data came in. pic.twitter.com/6gT3PJueps— Peter Thomas (@ptastro1) June 2, 2018
You can search for “nt7” in the removed objects table to check;
It was removed on 1st August 2002. Which makes these sensationalist stories more than 16 years out of date!
OBJECTS ARE OFTEN REMOVED FROM THE SENTRY RISK TABLE, OVER 2000 SO FAR
It is also very common for objects to be removed from the table.
When first discovered there were many possible orbits. Virtual orbits. They didn't know which one it was on.
With a few days of more observations, they knew its position much better and knew it was not on the orbit that hits Earth.
It was the second object to reach level 1 in the Torino scale. That is the Normal (green) level
A routine discovery in which a pass near Earth is predicted, that poses no unusual level of danger. Current calculations show the chance of collision is extremely unlikely with no cause for public attention or public concern. New telescopic observations very likely will lead to reassignment to Level 0.
You can find it in the list of Removed objects. There is nothing suspicious about this. There are over 2,000 removed objects now.
163132) 2002 CU11 was the first to be rated level 1 on 20 March 2002, and completely removed from the Sentry Risk Table on 26 April 2002.
Since then at least one object has reached level 1 and then been removed, every year. In 2018 then four objects did this.
The highest any got was Apophis which reached level 4 in 2004 but even at level 4 you expect it to miss, and that is what happened, they proved it would miss. For details see: Can Apophis Hit Earth In 2036? NO - ‘News’ In Tabloid Fish-Wrapper Is Google Nº 1
It is all totally normal.
BUT WOULDN’T NASA HIDE THE NEWS IF IT WAS GOING TO HIT?
Nonsense. Indeed if you believe such a conspiracy theory - why would the astronomers announce it in the first place? If the purpose of the asteroid search programs was just to pacify the public with saccharine safe news, why not just do lots of observations and keep saying “We haven’t seen any asteroids that could hit Earth”? Why announce that it might hit and then change the story? It makes no sense.
Anyway, the genuine asteroid detection is done in public, the orbital predictions shared with all astronomers worldwide, who also can easily check that the orbit that was published matches where they ask them to look, and they then look at that place and yes, they see the asteroid exactly where predicted.
There isn't any room here for them to hide anything. And it is all done publicly via orbits published by the CNEOS and observations shared publicly through minor planet center telegrams and read by astronomers, professional and amateur, worldwide. The observations aren't coordinated by NASA but by the Minor Planet Center which is part of the International Astronomical Union. The asteroid searches themselves are multi-national as are the follow up observations. And the minor planet center does its own independent orbit predictions though the CNEOS specializes in accurate long term predictions.
And governments do not hide news of disasters. Weather forecasters do not hide news of hurricanes. These astronomers are paid as their job, $160 million a year mandated by Congress to warn us about dangerous asteroids. They would be out of their job next day if they were to hide anything I'd imagine. Like a weather forecaster who knows that a hurricane is headed for Miami but suppresses the information and substitutes a fake weather chart with clear sunny weather.
Have you ever known a government hide information about a hurricane? It's the other way around, the government are the ones trying to get stubborn people to evacuate.
I know it seems familiar from movies but they do that in movies for an exciting story, not because it is realistic. It has never happened in real life as far as I know that a government has hidden news of an upcoming natural disaster they knew of.
That just never happens. Only in movies.
More generally, NASA don’t hide things. They post all their most interesting findings to the web site right away. Indeed, they are amongst the most open of all the space agencies, especially with images, most of their images are posted to the web almost immediately as soon as they are downloaded, or within a day or two at most. The Center for Near Earth Object Studies is similar. They update the orbits right away, so that astronomers can use them to plan their observations of the asteroids.
DO AMATEUR ASTRONOMERS OBSERVE IT?
There are amateurs worldwide who do look for these asteroids and photograph them and send in observations to the minor planet center. But it is rather specialized. Most amateur astronomers wouldn't know how to do this. That is to say, they would know how it works in theory but not the nuts and bolts of it, they would have things to look up / check on how to do it before they got started on the project.
It’s estimated magnitude right now is 17.06 as estimated by JPL. That’s pretty hard to spot. You need excellent seeing and a good telescope. For instance by this telescope limiting magnitude calculator, leaving the rest at defaults, and a 50 times magnification and a 24″ telescope (so power 1200) then you’d see stars down to 17.9 so have a chance of seeing it:
That’s a big telescope, couple of thousand dollars or more in cost, most likely in its own separate observatory.
Here is a typical amateur who specializes in tracking asteroids, with a 30″ telescope - he would be able to see it fine:
Bob Holmes with one of his telescopes - a wide field of view 0.76 m (30 in) telescope with a sensitive CCD camera purchased with a 2013 grant from the Planetary Society. Bob Holmes of the Astronomical Research Institute in Illinois, USA
It is in the constellation Virgo at:
Right Ascension: 14h 03m 36.4s
Declination: -2° 40' 05.1".
For details see
WHAT HAPPENS IF AN ASTEROID THIS BIG DOES HIT EARTH?
A 1.4 km asteroid hitting an ocean depth 3000 meters would produce a megatsunami between 2.05 and 73.4 meters high at a distance of 500 kilometers from the impact. It is high, between the height of a room, and the height of a multi-story skyscraper, perhaps twenty stories or more, but not as high as even a small hillock, never mind a hill or mountain.
At a distance of 1000 km the height is between 49 cm ( = 19.3 inches) and 36.7 meters ( = 120 feet).
You can use the Impact Earth! program from Purdue university which now has a tsunami height calculator.
It depends a bit on the material of the asteroid, depth of the sea water, angle and speed.
At 1.4 km in diameter then it would produce a crater 20 kilometers in diameter. The firestorm including debris thrown up and landing and starting up new fires would extend to hundreds of kilometers from the impact point. There would be regional earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunami (if it hit the sea). Skies darker than the darkest cloud cover from the dust thrown up in to the upper atmosphere, global temperature drops several degrees for weeks, and moderate global effects for months. No summer that year.
Plant growth is disrupted for years and there are some global crop failures and some regional extinctions.
According to Impact Earth an object 1.4 km in diameter hits Earth only once every 1.6 million years or so. This older table says less than every 500,000 years.
It just gives a first rough idea. He comments on it: “Caution: Many items are speculative at this stage.”
But enough to get a first idea.
If it was really going to hit, they would know where it would hit. For instance, suppose it was going to hit in the Atlantic. We would then know that all the coastal cities would get a megatsunami. So, they would have removed all precious things from coastal cities already.
E.g. all the New York art galleries would have made arrangements already to move their precious collections to somewhere above the height of the megatsunami. They would have probably built temporary cities to house everyone due to the huge numbers of people who would have to evacuate all the coastal cities.
Everyone would be told to leave home on that date and they would be going round door to door telling people they have to move and explaining it to them probably - because as with hurricanes there would be people who don't believe it or are brave and stupid and decide not to move. They would also have started stock piling food long ago.
We'd all be on rations like the UK in WWII, especially for meat, in order to build up a stock pile of food to last us because they'd expect major crop failures this spring. There would be lots of other things going on. It would be in the news day in / day out, and experts working on all the things we have to do.
None of that happened because it isn't going to hit us. They proved it would miss back in 2002. If they had proved it would hit back then, they would also have had space missions to try to deflect it and they probably would have succeeded.
ARE THERE ANY OTHER OBJECTS LIKE THIS COULD HIT US?
Nothing this big can hit us without warning. We now have the ATLAS early warning telescopes and they can spot half of the objects of 50 meters in diameter before they hit, usually two weeks in advance. By the time it gets to 1 km in size they can spot all of them at least a year in advance.
This is just for detection using ATLAS, of course other surveys would help with the larger ones. ATLAS is optimized for the smallest ones that can only be spotted within a few weeks of impact. They did this test using a simulated set of fictional asteroid impactors. It is optimized to find impactors rather than ones that do flybys, and for these it is very effective.
Figure 3 of this paper. Horizontal axis is impactor size in meters.
The 10 years just means that they ran their simulation for ten years and this was the result. They had two modes of operation, and I think this must be for the first mode when they had “ 10,000 impactors chosen to strike the Earth randomly in location and time over the next 100 years”
“The asteroids that ATLAS misses slip in from the direction of the Sun and south pole or during periods of bad weather. (An ATLAS copy in the southern hemisphere or in a different weather pattern would raise the detection fraction.)”
For the asteroids that it can find, then it usually finds them with lots of warning. A week for the 50 meter asteroids and two to three weeks for 140 meter asteroids.
“We see that most 50 m diameter asteroids will be detected between 3 and 9 days before impact, and most 140 meter asteroids will be detected 10 - 40 days before impact.”
That is enough time to evacuate a city, as we know from experience with hurricanes. With enough warning then nobody needs to die.
So, nobody needs die of any asteroid of 1 km or larger as we would know about it a year in advance.
The main risk is from smaller asteroids and we would know about most of those in advance too.
And as for comets we’d know of those long in advance too. Easier to see than asteroids because of the long tail. A one kilometer diameter comet would be seen several years in advance.
They are very unlikely though because only 1 in 100 of the asteroids that go past Earth are comets and those are nearly all the Jupiter family comets and other short period comets. Only about 1 in 100 of those are the long period comets so you can see that they are very rare indeed at present. The closest any has come is Lexell’s comet at six times the distance to the Moon in 1770. By comparison many asteroids come closer than the Moon and sometimes closer even than the orbit for geostationary satellites.
As for mass extinction level events, the largest undiscovered asteroid is probably around 3.5 km in diameter. It’s likely to have been at the other side of the sun from us for the last decade or two since these surveys started, hidden in the daytime sky in the late dawn or early dusk sky. As soon as it drifts around into view then multiple sky surveys will find it - ATLAS, Catalina and Pan -STARRs. And any such asteroid then would have to drift all the way around to Earth which would take a while.
It’s unlikely that any of the undiscovered objects of one kilometer or larger is any risk at all to Earth, because very few are anyway and 95% of the objects of 1 km or larger are already discovered.
Of the ones we know of one kilometer or larger, large enough to have some global effects, there are only three of them that need to be kept an eye on of around 1–2 km.
But two of them have only been observed briefly. They will almost certainly be removed from the tables as soon as we next spot them.
That leaves only one in the table, 1950 DA 1.3 km (ESA estimates it as 2 km) which based on 65 years and 9 months of observation, has only one possible impact in 2880. But it is 99.988% certain the asteroid will miss the Earth.
The two others which will almost certainly soon be removed are:
- 2010 GD37 1.26 km - "Analysis based on 19 observations spanning 3.3331 days
- 2010 KV21 1.2 km (ESA also estimates it as 1.2 km) Analysis based on 20 observations spanning 4.2997 days
That’s out of 894 objects. So chances are there are no objects able to hit Earth in the next century, in the remaining 20–30 objects left to find of above 1 km.
The ones of 10 km or larger, large enough for big mass extinctions, they are all absolutely fine, don’t come anywhere near Earth for thousands of years, except for Swift-Tuttle which has a 1 in a million chance for 4479. That means it is 99.9999% certain to miss. In the very remote chance it turns out to be on an impact trajectory, it’s a job for our great great … (many times) great grandchildren more than two thousand years into the future to deflect it.
- Debunked: 2002 NT7 is NOT going to hit Earth in 2019 by Robert Walker on Debunking Doomsday
- Governments can’t and don’t hide news of upcoming disasters - just a movie “trope”
- How to check if an asteroid impact story is fake - colour coded alert levels
- my answer to How vulnerable are we to a catastrophic asteroid impact? Are there people whose job is to watch for them?
- Supplementary material for answer to How vulnerable are we to a catastrophic asteroid impact? Are there people whose job is to watch for them?
- What can we do to retire the risk from asteroids quickly?
- Effects of asteroid impacts, from tens of meters to hundreds of kilometers
- My answer to What would happen if a 1-2 mile asteroid hit earth?
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