It actually crossed our orbit already on the 8th. It is already moving upwards away from our orbit. Earth is catching up on it from behind and is closest on the 13th at 61 million kilometers. That's further away than Mars at its closest, and much further away than Venus at its closest.
The red top tabloids and other sensationalist press and YouTube videos are going wild about this, in many different languages too. It is my most often asked question at present from scared people, whether their lives are at risk because of this asteroid. It doesn't matter if they say it or write it in Russian, Spanish, or whatever language it is, or enlist the services of clairvoyants or astrologers to pronounce about it - it is still utter nonsense.
This is what it will be like on 13th January:
They found old observations dating back to 1954 and so have 64 years of observation. That lets them calculate the distance accurate to within an amazing 127 kilometers over 61 million kilometers and the time of closest approach to 16.50 on Jan 13th exact to the minute. They have all its flybys worked out through to 2200 and it always flies past more than fifty million kilometers. It was completely removed from the risk tables on 1st August 2002.
When first discovered it had a chance to hit just because they didn't know its orbit well. There were many virtual orbits through the observations and one of those could hit Earth. In order to do that it had to do it at a particular time as well as place - since both objects are traveling at kilometers per second and they have to be synchronized to a few minutes to hit, a bit like trying to hit a bullet with another bullet.
They soon proved that this was not its correct orbit, and so proved it would miss.
It has no risk at all of hitting Earth any time this century or the next, through at least to 2200. All its flybys of Earth are at distances of at least 50 million kilometers.
To put this in perspective, space is vast. The distance to the sun is 149.6 million km. So an asteroid that gets to 61 million km of Earth is much closer than the sun. It will be further away than Mars or Venus when they are at their closest. Mars at its closest was 56 million km in 2003 How Far Away is Mars? | Distance to Mars Venus gets much closer than this, 38 million kilometers Venus Fact Sheet
You can check any story like this for yourself, if it isn’t in the impact risk table, it’s not true. See also my How to check if an asteroid impact story is fake - colour coded alert levels
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.
As expected it was soon reassigned to level 0, not only that it was removed altogether on 1st August 2002. 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. diameter 460 meters.
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
So, there is nothing unusual about 2002 NT7 except for the journalism. Some journalists wrote sensationalist exaggerated articles in 2002 before it was proved to miss, and these articles continue to be reblogged through to today.
The astronomers proved it would miss way back in 2002. Since then they have made many more observations and also found prediscovery photographs of it - back to July 1954.
They have a total of 64 years of observation now. That lets them predict this flyby exactly to the minute. They also know the distance it will fly past. It will fly past between 61007782 km and 61007909 km from Earth. So they now know the flyby distance to within 127 km out of 61 million km.
There is absolutely no possibility at all of it hitting Earth.
You can check the latest calculations for yourself, but you need some help to read it:
Go to: JPL Small-Body Database Browser and look for this entry:
2019-Jan-13 16:50 < 00:01 Earth 0.407811835507195 0.407810985048842 0.40781268596571
That means that it is closest on Jan 13 at 16.50 with the time accurate to less than a minute.
To convert au to km just type into google 0.407811835507195 au in km
For the observations used in their prediction, look at the top of the page
first obs. used 1954-07-10
last obs. used 2018-08-22
To start with, with only a few days observations in early July, they expected it to miss but weren’t totally sure. But then with a few more days of observation they knew for sure, and then by 1st August they knew that it can’t hit Earth all the way through to 2200 and beyond.
It never was on an orbit that could hit Earth. But in early July 2002 they had only a few observations. These are like fuzzy points in the night sky and you can fit lots of lines through them, which they call “virtual orbits”. They didn’t know which of those was the correct orbit.
Back in 2002 in early July they had so little information so far that the possible places it could be on 1st February covered half Earth's orbit - it could have passed by as much as six months too soon to hit Earth for all they knew at that time!
Earth is the blue dot in this image and the white dots are the possible positions for 2002 NT7 for late January 2019, which would be a few days before impact if it was going to hit Earth. As you can see most of the white dots are far from Earth:
By the 1st August they proved it would pass Earth two weeks too soon to hit Earth.
This is what it looked like by the 5th August, well separated from Earth
And this is what it looked like by June 2018:
(they have a few more observations now so it is even more precise but it’s already just a dot in that image).
That's why the astronomers never thought it was likely to hit Earth.
They were misreported by the journalists.
One of those virtual orbits hit Earth in 2019. But only 1 in 60,000 of the virtual orbits. So it was highly unlikely that it would hit Earth. It was no surprise to the astronomers that they soon proved it would miss.
What confuses people is that the virtual orbit hit Earth at a particular time. 11.47 am on Feb 1 2019. Why would it hit on that particular time if there is no real impact?
It’s because Earth and the asteroid are moving around the sun several dozen times faster than a speeding bullet. They just need to be a few minutes out in their timing and they miss each other. The only time the bullet of the asteroid could hit the rapidly moving target of Earth was on that date at that time. Get it wrong even by a few minutes and Earth would no longer be there when the asteroid flies past.
In the end they found that they were out not just by a few minutes but by a couple of weeks. So of course, it is not going to go anywhere near Earth. It gets to us far too early to hit us.
It passes closest to Earth’s orbit two weeks before Earth gets anywhere near where its orbit crosses close to our orbit.
For more details see
- How we know 2002 NT7 will not hit Earth on 1st February 2019 - and it is normal for asteroids to be removed from the Sentry Earth Impact Monitoring table
WHAT IF IT WAS REALLY GONG TO HIT EARTH
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 cites. 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 an 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 (apart from a tiny non hazardous fragment that got a little closer a few meters across). And that was a long period comet that got deflected into a short period comet by Jupiter. 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, we know of all the ten kilometer “near Earth” asteroids and comets - at least it is a near certainty that we don’t even have a single one left to find. The largest undiscovered asteroid is probably around 3.5 km in diameter. The reason it would be undiscovered is because it has an orbit that is almost exactly one year and it happens to be the other side of the sun from us and so, 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 since to be undiscovered it has to have been hidden behind the sun for at least a decade since those all sky surveys started.
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 they are exceedingly unlikely to hit Earth, chances in a billion and not currently at a level considered to be of public interest.
- - “Analysis based on 523 observations spanning 24010.3 days (1950-Feb-22.230140 to 2015-Nov-18.504940) “ i.e. 65 years and 9 months of observation, a reasonably accurate orbit.
- only one possible impact in 2880. 0.012% chance of Earth impact
1 in 8,300 odds of impact 99.988% chance the asteroid will miss the Earth
2010 GD37 1.26 km
- "Analysis based on 19 observations spanning 3.3331 days(2010-Apr-05.850035 to 2010-Apr-09.18316) " So, once they have more observations they most likely like 2002 NT7 remove it from the table altogether.
- “Analysis based on 20 observations spanning 4.2997 days
(2010-May-17.927225 to 2010-May-22.22691) “ so another one that will most likely be removed once they have more observations.
That’s out of 894 objects of one kilometer or larger found to date. And two of them are just in the table because of short observation arcs of only 3 days or 4 days respectively. The only one with a decent chance of impact is for 2880, plenty of time to deflect it in that 0.012% chance that it actually does turn out to be headed for Earth once we study it more.
So chances are there are none of them in the remaining 20–30 objects left to find of above 1 km.
None of the others are any risk at all for this next century.
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.
For more about all this
- Supplementary material for answer to How vulnerable are we to a catastrophic asteroid impact? Are there people whose job is to watch for them? by Robert Walker on Mars and Space
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