NASA: Massive Asteroid will zoom near Earth on February 4th – at 76,000 mph

Asteroid 2002 AJ129 will make a close approach to Earth on Feb. 4, 2018 at 1:30 p.m. PST (4:30 p.m. EST / 21:30 UTC). It is expected to be the largest and speediest space object to whiz past the Earth in 2018. The 0.7-mile long body is larger than the tallest building on Earth, Dubai’s half-mile high Burj Khalifa skyscraper will zoom past Earth at 76,000 miles per hour.

At the time of closest approach, the asteroid will be no closer than 10 times the distance between Earth and the Moon (about 2.6 million miles, or 4.2 million kilometers). So, it will miss Earth, as seen in this animation below.

2002 AJ129 is an intermediate-sized near-Earth asteroid, somewhere between 0.3 miles (0.5 kilometers) and 0.75 miles (1.2 kilometers) across. It was discovered on Jan. 15, 2002, by the former NASA-sponsored Near Earth Asteroid Tracking project at the Maui Space Surveillance Site on Haleakala, Hawaii. The asteroid’s velocity at the time of closest approach, 76,000 mph (34 kilometers per second), is higher than the majority of near-Earth objects during an Earth flyby. The high flyby velocity is a result of the asteroid’s orbit, which approaches very close to the Sun — 11 million miles (18 million kilometers). Although asteroid 2002 AJ129 is categorized as a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA), it does not pose an actual threat of colliding with our planet for the foreseeable future.

“We have been tracking this asteroid for over 14 years and know its orbit very accurately,” said Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.  “Our calculations indicate that asteroid 2002 AJ129 has no chance — zero — of colliding with Earth on Feb. 4 or any time over the next 100 years.”

JPL hosts the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies for NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program, an element of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office within the agency’s Science Mission Directorate.

More information about asteroids and near-Earth objects can be found at:

For more information about NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office, visit:

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Alan Robertson
January 20, 2018 5:07 pm

I’m glad someone’s paying attention. It’s even better that they can spot those things far enough out that we can start taking pot shots at ’em, if need be. No sense in the world suffering through another mass extinction, if there’s something we might do to prevent it.

Reply to  Alan Robertson
January 21, 2018 1:44 am

Start taking pot shots at them with what? Relative to us it’s doing 76000 mph. How fast does your fastest ICBM go, and can that actually escape earth orbit?

Reply to  mark4asp
January 21, 2018 2:02 am

It would not be too hard to hit. It is fairly large and its position is known in advance to a high degree of precision.

Reply to  mark4asp
January 21, 2018 8:47 am

We don’t need to hit this one. However, had we needed to, we would have had months to put something together.
Secondly, had we needed to hit it, we wouldn’t have needed to hit it hard. The next pass isn’t for 100 years or so. A tiny nudge, over 100 years, results in a huge change in orbit. More than enough to turn a sure hit into a near miss.

That’s why we are looking for asteroids and comets. So that we can spot the dangerous ones early.

Reply to  mark4asp
January 21, 2018 1:58 pm

Earth’s average orbital speed around the Sun is about 30 kilometers per second. In other units, that’s about 19 miles per second, or 67,000 miles per hour, or 110,000 kilometers per hour (110 million meters per hour).

coincidence ?

Reply to  mark4asp
January 21, 2018 2:05 pm

The Solar System is traveling at an average speed of 828,000 km/h (230 km/s) or 514,000 mph (143 mi/s) within its trajectory around the galactic center,[

Reply to  mark4asp
January 23, 2018 8:31 pm

Well it’s approaching at 76,000 mph so just throwing a missile into it’s path would do the trick. Course you’d have to do that early to affect it’s path enough. Or you could blow it up and hope for the best.

Reply to  Alan Robertson
January 21, 2018 3:02 am

If you’ve read the Arthur C. Clark book, “Rendezvous With Rama”, This could sound like de je veux all over again.

“Rendezvous with Rama” is a science fiction novel by British writer Arthur C. Clarke first published in 1973. Set in the 2130s, the story involves a 50-kilometre (31 mi) cylindrical alien starship that enters Earth’s solar system. The story is told from the point of view of a group of human explorers who intercept the ship in an attempt to unlock its mysteries. The novel won both the Hugo[4] and Nebula[5] awards upon its release, and is regarded as one of the cornerstones in Clarke’s bibliography. The concept was later extended with several sequels.

Reply to  thomasjk
January 21, 2018 9:01 am

I read both the books – there was a sequel. They were strange – just an adventure – no answers, no conclusion. It is sorta Arthur C Clark’s style I guess.

Reply to  thomasjk
January 21, 2018 9:55 am

This object is orbiting the Sun, not at all like Clarke’s Rama. (Not Clark!)

Oumuamua is a different matter. If two more come sailing by, that would get my attention.

Ernest Bush
Reply to  thomasjk
January 21, 2018 11:03 am

@ Ric Werme – Especially of they were rotating about the short axis like that one.

Hot under the collar
Reply to  Alan Robertson
January 21, 2018 4:58 am

Waiting for the man who told us he invented the internet (Al Gore) to tell us that it’s due to increased CO2 and ‘climate change’ attracting these asteroids!

Pop Piasa
Reply to  Alan Robertson
January 21, 2018 9:05 am

You’d better pulverize it or you’ll have a pool game game of heliospheric proportion going on.

Juan Slayton
January 20, 2018 5:08 pm

That’s a pretty fast skyscraper. Don’t tell Rocket Man….

Reply to  Juan Slayton
January 20, 2018 5:54 pm

Don’t tell Al Bore, as it will be in his next fake GoreBullwarming film:-)))

The Reverend Badger
January 20, 2018 5:11 pm

The astro nutters definition of “near” is very very silly. It’s like suggesting that when I nip down to the local shop in my car I had a near miss with a car doing the same in Llanfairpwllgwyngyll (I live in England). The more reasonable definition of a near asteroid would be one passing through Earth’s orbital path within 2 hours of the Earth or within 100km.

The reason they don’t use a more reasonable definition of “near” is that it would only generate one newsworthy bit of waffle every few thousand years. They need to grow up, be more realistic, consider the real world and stop this nonsense.

Reply to  The Reverend Badger
January 20, 2018 5:16 pm


Easy for you to say.

Reply to  JerryC
January 20, 2018 6:24 pm

Yeah that’s pretty easy, we usually called it Llanfair PG, of course it’s missing the last half of the name any way.
is slightly more tricky.
Here’s a phonetic guide:comment image

Reply to  JerryC
January 20, 2018 6:57 pm

“Saint Mary’s Church in the hollow of the white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio of the red cave.”

Lovely language, Welsh… The words are long, true, but you really never need more than one or two for a complete sentence.

Reply to  JerryC
January 20, 2018 8:22 pm

Writing Observer January 20, 2018 at 6:57 pm
Lovely language, Welsh… The words are long, true, but you really never need more than one or two for a complete sentence.

Agreed. Well the place names are long, there are lots of Llanfairs for example so they usually have a qualifier added (though not usually as many as in this case).
Hwyl fawr am nawr!

Peter C
Reply to  JerryC
January 21, 2018 3:39 am

Writing Observer January 20, 2018 at 6:57 pm
Lovely language, Welsh… The words are long, true, but you really never need more than one or two for a complete sentence.

On the other hand when I asked a Welsh friend why he called chips (french fries) ‘chippo’ he pointed out that to say ‘chip’ in Welsh would, in translation, be: ‘sliced and sliced potato fried deep in fat’ or thereabouts, there being no actual word for chip. Cuts both ways one might say.

Reply to  JerryC
January 22, 2018 3:07 pm

Interestingly, I believe that the Welsh Language Society had sought – well before Brexit – an emergency air drop of vowels, from the EU [and a couple of sibilants and a terminal ‘R’ for effect, to taste, . . . .].
No such air drop is confirmed – are the finances not audited?
But England will, I gather, probably effect one very soon after Brexit.
Estuary English, which seems to operate in a consonant-free zone, is thought not to be significantly threatened (as it has so many vowels, already).

Mods – Please recalibrate – this IS Sarc. Seriously . . . . . .

Reply to  The Reverend Badger
January 20, 2018 5:36 pm

I’d consider “near” to be anything close enough to have it’s orbit significantly modified by Earth’s gravity.

Reply to  Jeanparisot
January 21, 2018 8:54 am

Now define “significantly”.

Reply to  The Reverend Badger
January 20, 2018 5:54 pm

When I was a pup we had yearly books with tables of astronomical tables. They were darn accurate.

Having said the above, I have no idea of how accurate is the prediction of this particular asteroid’s orbit. In any event, it’s not perfect. link In light of that, I would call a near miss anywhere within the margin of error.

Reply to  commieBob
January 21, 2018 8:55 am

We have been observing the orbits of the planets for hundreds of years. They have been refined to a very high degree of accuracy by now.

Reply to  commieBob
January 22, 2018 3:18 pm

MarkW, CommieBob,
I think you are both broadly right.

A thought: –
What we do not appear to have, at the moment, is a facility to pick up ‘new’ incoming rocks.
I appreciate that they are all mostly billions of years old, but if they have not been sighted within 100/200/500 years, we will, very probably, not have orbital characteristics.
These, then, may (might) be dangerous.

Charles January 21, 2018 at 8:22 am
Entirely right.
I have no idea when we ‘should’ expect an anomalous atomising arrival.
It might be next week – making all my pension contributions pretty irrelevant , in truth – but it may not be.

Larry D January 21, 2018 at 9:38 pm : –
To borrow a phrase from Instapundit “insufficient opportunities for graft.”

Larry – plus + several shedloads!


Reply to  The Reverend Badger
January 20, 2018 8:06 pm

Well, near is a relative thing in orbital relations. Some times its easier to think about it in time terms. While this asteroid poses no threat because its orbit is not in the same plane as ours and it crosses the ecliptic plane in an un-occupied orbit, as far as near this comes within about 1 day of us at our present orbital speed. We’ve had much closer near misses, like the earth was in that position not 5 minutes before where the asteroid crossed.

Reply to  The Reverend Badger
January 21, 2018 8:22 am

Utter rubbish. It is inevitable, totally inevitable, that we will be hit at some point by a large rock. Could be next week. We have the technology to track and deflect these objects, yet we’d rather spend trillions on B/S like climate change. It is a testament to the stupidity of mankind that we have the power to solve this problem (one of the few really civilisation-threatening disasters we can do something about) and yet we don’t get on with it.

Larry D
Reply to  Charles
January 21, 2018 9:38 pm

To barrow a phrase from Instapundit “insufficent opportunities for graft.”

January 20, 2018 5:23 pm

Gee whiz, I thought I’d get a piece of that rock this time, but nooooooo….!

Oh, well – maybe next year.

January 20, 2018 5:28 pm

we should all jump up and down at the same time. Put a bit more distance..

January 20, 2018 5:34 pm

These notices are getting almost routine. Like SpaceX deliveries to orbit.

One wonders how many flew by without public notice in the past.

Louis Hooffstetter
Reply to  Jeanparisot
January 20, 2018 7:15 pm

I was thinking the same thing. Have more asteroids been crossing Earth’s orbit lately, or are we just more aware of them?

Reply to  Louis Hooffstetter
January 20, 2018 8:17 pm

This list from the Minor Planet Centre is always useful to get a feel of what’s passed by in the last couple of weeks and predicted for the next couple of weeks. Updated every day:

I check it every day. As you can see, there are many that pass by at around the distance of 2002AJ129. However, it’s the size (up to 1.1km) that’s of interest here because that sort of size for this close approach distance is rare (roughly one every few years). We get many more 100-500m rocks within 4 million km, perhaps ten per year, although that’s subjective, from memory, I don’t keep a note.

As you can see on the linked page (as of the date of this comment) five rocks passed with a close approach distance of less than 1LD in five days (15th-20th January 2018). This is definitely a record. All were discovered by the Catalina Sky Survey which is the most sensitive survey dedicated wholly to NEO detection. It had major upgrades in 2017 and this is probably why it’s now catching more (notice how all 5 rocks are very small, 2-10 metres).

So, the increase in detection is due to tech advances. The flux of NEOs and their close approaches is the same as it ever was- we just missed them in the past.

Reply to  Louis Hooffstetter
January 21, 2018 8:57 am

We’ve spent the last decade or so actively looking for them.

Reply to  Jeanparisot
January 21, 2018 9:05 am

Didn’t we have one that was visible to the naked eye a few years back. Passed between the earth moon orbit.

Pop Piasa
Reply to  marque2
January 21, 2018 9:21 am

There are 5 PHAs that have passed within 1 Lunar Distance in the past week.
2018 BW – 9m big, 0.4LD, 6.4km/s
2018 BR1 – 4m, 0.3LD, 8.1km/s
2018 BD – 3m, 0.1LD, 10km/s
2018 BC – 5m, 0.7LD, 2.7km/s
2018 BX – 6m, 0.7LD, 5.8km/s

John Harmsworth
Reply to  Jeanparisot
January 21, 2018 12:07 pm

This sort of mandates the following question:
Given that we barely have the capability to intercept something hazardous and aren’t really sure how best to intervene anyway, what is the size and likelihood of impact that would have us hitting the panic button?

January 20, 2018 5:38 pm

E = 0.5 mv^2

I leave it as an exercise to calculate the number of hydrogen bombs would equal the energy of an asteroid of that mass travelling at that velocity. hint

Reply to  commieBob
January 20, 2018 7:16 pm

Would it not be more “fun” to imagine an asteroid just gradually catching up to the earth at 2-3 km/hour?

Reply to  RACookPE1978
January 20, 2018 9:06 pm

This happens a few times a year and your guess of 2-3 km/sec is very good.

If the orbit of the incoming NEO has a perihelion distance of around 1AU and aphelion between say, 2 and 3 AU, its orbit will almost nest with the Earth’s circular orbit at perihelion. The other factor is the eccentricity (fatness) of the NEO’s ellipse which has to be fairly fat to nest but it usually is when the perihelion distance is 1AU. Also The inclination of the orbit has to be lowish (less than 5 degrees or so, also common in these cases).

With this set up, the Earth and the NEO are travelling almost parallel at the NEO’s perihelion point. The Earth actually has to be in the vicinity which is of course a small chance.

Since the NEO has a semimajor axis much bigger than 1AU it travels faster round the sun at the 1AU radius (it ‘drops’ in from 2 or 3 AU). This translates to around 33-36 km-sec as opposed to Earth’s 30km/sec. so the approach is directly from behind, catching up ‘in the same lane’. So the catch-up velocity is the same as the difference between the two orbital speeds. And this is usually 3 to 6 km/sec.

Almost all other NEO closing velocities have a large vector component due to the crossover angle of the two orbits. 2002AJ129 has an approach velocity of 34km/sec due to the obvious large angle with the Earth’s orbit (due to high eccentricity and low perihelion distance).

I’m putting this here because the JPL and science mag articles never explain how these rocks come in so we’re often left with bizarre descriptions of rocks whizzing past from South Pole to North Pole or straight from the direction of the sun as if its orbit is somehow diametrically across the solar system. This is because the orbital speeds of both the Earth and the rock are stripped out and we’re just looking at the geocentric approach radiant (direction). In reality, when viewed in the heliocentric reference frame (with Earth and NEO orbital speed added back in) it’s usually a very graceful crossing over of orbits. The geocentric version is akin to two cars on the freeway doing 70mph and one approaching apparently sideways towards you as it changes lane.

Even experts don’t visualise this lane-changing approach enough. At the Planetary Denfense Conference in Tokyo in 2017 the hypothesised NEO impact was going to hit Tokyo. The models showed the meteor explosion 200km west of Tokyo. They thought this was a mistake and ignored it because they weren’t thinking in the geocentric reference frame. So they evacuated Tokyo north, south east…and west *into the path of the meteor fireball*.

Reply to  RACookPE1978
January 21, 2018 2:06 am

Actually no asteroid can ever hit the Earth at a lower speed than 11 km/s (c. 25,000 mph).

Pop Piasa
Reply to  RACookPE1978
January 21, 2018 9:29 am

Scute, can I sit next to you on quiz days? That was very informative. Thanx.

Reply to  RACookPE1978
January 21, 2018 11:12 am

Thank you.

From a planetary defense standpoint, it’s “interesting” to see the prejudices – almost physical revulsion – against using nuclear weapons on these smaller rocks. The most probable impactors.

That Nukes are claimed to be ineffective – which they are against very large asteroids or comets.
That nukes need to be dug-in (drilled into the rock like in the movies) to break the impactor up into small bits.
That residual radiation in the rocks would be deadly.
That nukes are not allowed into space, so they can’t be used in space.
That warning time limitation prevent nukes from being launched out into space early enough.
That we could not hit a asteroid with a nuke.

…. Then, when all these arguments are made, the same astronomer who opposes any thought of nuclear weapons proposes sending a manned vehicle (which doesn’t exist even in designs!) or unmanned probe (which doesn’t exist in designs either!) out to the inbound rock, finding the rock, landing on it and mounting some sort of drilled and clamped tether on the centerline of mass and rotation of an irregular mass tumbling irregularly in 3D space for a magical shroud or solar parachute to pull the tumbling rock out of earth’s orbit. Or attach a solar-power/electronic rocket to drive the irregularly tumbling rock out of earth’s orbit using a few pounds thrust for years.

Instead, the nuke – not efficiently but merely practically – need only impact the tumbling rock, blast a few tons off or break it up into smaller bits – each bit with a side motion of only a few meters per day that will clear the earth’s orbit. Or, failing to clear, will break the single large destructive rock into 2 or 3 smaller rocks that further break up in the atmosphere – if they hit at all.

If the first large nuke fails, or misses, use the backups. It is not as if we do not have ballistic-capable large weapons designed. Pick a site, hold a few missiles on standby for planetary defense. If the first three nuclear weapons are not enough, use a few more. If the radiation deposited in the any of all of the in-space nuke blasts does not move it from the earth orbit, then the tremendous blast and heat damage from a 10000 tons of rock impacting WILL make the residual radiation from a 25 megaton nuclear blast 3 months previous to impact immeasurable.

James Schrumpf
Reply to  commieBob
January 21, 2018 11:52 am

Seems you’ve published half a differentiation there. Wouldn’t e = mv^2 differentiate to kg-m = 0.5 mv?

Been a long time since my calculus classes, but that’s how I remember it being done.

Reply to  James Schrumpf
January 21, 2018 10:22 pm

Classic Newtonian physics holds kinetic energy = 1/2 mv^2.
Potential energy is m*(delta h)*g for a mass elevated between two distances in a constant gravity field.
But both require a very large numbers of assumptions. The energy exchanged between two colliding masses is proportional to their difference in the velocity vectors of the center of mass of each other. Not the absolute velocity of either.
But is either (or both) is spinning, you need to account for that inertia as well.

Reply to  James Schrumpf
January 21, 2018 11:22 pm

Close. Given that velocity is the first differential of displacement we get: E = Fd

Reply to  James Schrumpf
January 21, 2018 11:32 pm
January 20, 2018 6:07 pm

Ever since I first heard about an asteroid going past us inside the 23,000 mile geosynch orbit, I consider an asteroid that doesn’t come closer than our moon as just a curiosity. Several have come inside the “Clarke” altitude:

January 20, 2018 6:33 pm

Its next approach is quite a bit closer;
“On February 8, 2172, the asteroid will pass about 0.00458 AU (685,000 km; 426,000 mi) from Earth.[2] The 2172 Earth approach distance is known with a 3-sigma accuracy of ±4000 km.”

Reply to  Phil.
January 21, 2018 8:43 am

I suspect that after Feb. 4, the scientists will be able to narrow those error bars a bit.

January 20, 2018 7:15 pm

The question, as always, becomes: “OK, It missed the earth this time. Now, how was its orbit changed so we can predict it will CONTINUE to miss the earth’s position the next 16 times? ”

I’d much prefer the massive computer power now making mistakes with 1000 year runs of chaotic climate models based on assumed minute conditions of dust, gas, and winds be applied to “simple” Newtonian physics of mass, time, velocity, and distance of a six body problem: The earth, the moon, the asteroid itself, Jupiter, Mars, and Venus.

Louis Hooffstetter
Reply to  RACookPE1978
January 21, 2018 6:42 pm


Reply to  RACookPE1978
January 22, 2018 3:29 pm

Perhaps, as with Climate, I might be permitted to add a Seventh Body.
The Sun.


January 20, 2018 7:29 pm

If asteroid scientists followed the lead of climate scientists, they’d be scaring the sh*t out of everybody and demanding billions to save the world from asteroidmeggendon.

Reply to  Eric
January 21, 2018 1:56 am

The difference being asteroidmeggendon is something that could happen and climaggendon, in a warming sense, can’t.

Joel O’Bryan
Reply to  mark4asp
January 21, 2018 8:03 am

Unless it can be blamed on a human behavior and thus taxed, the Left is not concerned with it.

Joel O’Bryan
January 20, 2018 7:43 pm

Oumaumau, the Giant Turd from Interstellar space, also had a similar elongated shape when it whizzed through our solar system last fall.comment image

Coincidence? I think not. There must be an alien shape-ship hiding in the shadow.

Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
January 21, 2018 12:15 pm

I’m sure there is an alien ship lurking in the shadows! Maybe not even lurking!

These things just crack me up.

Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
January 21, 2018 10:26 pm

Now, take that irregular shape, assume it is spinning on some axis, and attach a drive motor or solar parachute to the surface of the rock on the center of the spin axis directed exactly through the center of mass of the asteroid so the drive motor can “push” the asteroid away from the earth’s orbit in some controlled manner.
Assuming you have a couple of years’ of thrust available.

Edith Wenzel
January 20, 2018 8:19 pm

Hopefully they don’t blame this on fossil fuel. But, I expect they will find a way.

January 20, 2018 10:59 pm

Buy the time it does pose a direct threat to earth, we will have the technology to alter it’s trajectory…
All of us will be long gone by that time, so why even worry about it. I am worried whether the Eagle will beat the Vikings..,.and other stuff so much more important…
Who cares if the government is shut down…

James Francisco
Reply to  J. Philip Peterson
January 21, 2018 5:58 am

“Who cares if the government is shut down” other than the MSM , who will notice?

Reply to  James Francisco
January 21, 2018 9:01 am

Especially over the weekend.

January 20, 2018 11:00 pm


January 21, 2018 3:33 am

I wonder how dense that thing is? What is it’s mass? Seems pretty important information to know in calculating it’s orbit and how it may be perturbed by the gravity of other masses it passes by. Also nice to know how it may perturb the orbits of smaller asteroids it passes by. Be a good thing to know before it hits something in our part of the solar system neighborhood.

January 21, 2018 3:45 am

All these near misses show that Earth fails test 3 and is therefore not a planet.

Reply to  Roger
January 21, 2018 9:03 am

Those near misses are from objects that don’t share our orbit, so the test3 doesn’t apply.

January 21, 2018 4:17 am

I like my odds. The planets have been pulling debris from near space for billions of years. Not much left up there. Last known big hit tens of thousands of years ago.

Man’s problem is the lack of a paradigm for the vastness of space. We can’t comprehend it. ‘Near Earth’ headlines don’t help.

Reply to  Gamecock
January 21, 2018 2:06 pm

You are forgetting about Tunguska, that was about 100 years ago. It was big enough to have destroyed an entire city.

Reply to  MarkW
January 22, 2018 4:28 am

I don’t consider the Tunguska Event to be ‘big.’ We are looking at a ‘0.7-mile long body.’

“big enough to have destroyed an entire city”

Mt. St. Helens was big enough, too. But as I say we are protected by the vastness of space, we are also protected from actual Tunguska sized object impacts by the vastness of the Earth. 500,000,000 square kilometers, of which very little is populated.

A ‘0.7-mile long body’ impact would affect all of Earth, regardless of where it hit. We didn’t even know about Tunguska for many decades.

[Rather, the blast was seen (or felt) over wide areas of Russia and recorded that day, and unusual lights the next evening were seen over most of north Europe. But, true, the area itself was not reached until the 1921-27 expeditions. .mod]

Carl Friis-Hansen
January 21, 2018 4:19 am

In case of impact: 1.5*10^18 Jule or 48GW in a whole year. No chance of that though. But it could have replaced large number of power stations 🙂

Hocus Locus
January 21, 2018 4:44 am

[reporter Tom Foreman, CNN] “[during 2013 Federal Government shutdown] for more than two weeks, NASA reportedly stopped monitoring potentially dangerous asteroids. A big one, by the way, is expected to brush by Earth on February 4th.”

70 years into the Atomic Age and 50 years into the Space age “the Gub’mint” still has no credible asteroid intercept mission ready to fly, that’s the real news story here. Modern reporters would stop short and recite this alarming fact to their viewers as a coda to every such story, had news reporting not been bred out of them.

I find comments like one previous in this thread, “The astro nutters definition of “near” is very very silly.” outright offensive. Here we have a class of threat that is demonstrably existential. We have well-preserved craters on the Moon, evidence of mass extinctions and catastrophe on Earth, plenty of ongoing near encounters of various sizes, an incomplete NEO catalog. The nearby Asteroid Belt is yet to be charted down to the fine resolution with which we chart space debris in Earth orbit, as are the paths of eccentric long term comets.

There is an emerging human pathos in which everything is reduced to statistical probability regardless of its effect and consequence, and action is taken (or not) based on probabilities alone. It is a distorted view of reality. This is an abuse of statistics on the same level as the use of Newtonian physics by Astrologers to give superstition a patina of science.

In fact what I describe is pretty much ‘Statistical Astrology’. The idea that our presently calculated low probability of asteroid impact is ‘actionable’, as in ‘no action’ — no need for urgent action, just cool 3am documentary stuff — is like deference to a supernatural force. Like entering a casino to pull the handle just once because “God is with me today.”

I consider this use of statistics to whitewash confirmed existential threats to be an intellectual crisis. And that crisis has reached its peak in this ‘science’ piece by Ethan Siegel purportedly for children but actually unfit for them. In it he takes the gambler’s fallacy to a new level, encouraging children to “go gently into the good night” by imagining their whole species as a fait accompli, an interesting yarn while it lasted. There is nothing actionable in this. Yet he goes further to present a series of smaller catastrophes made fun by statistics, introducing ‘city-killers’ which will presumably (statistically!) only obliterate those in ‘other’ cities. These concepts are like training wheels for young minds who, as they mature, become ready to ignore the ultimate threat of mass extinction. Or in our case, a possibly preventable threat.

Existential threats are a special case and must be treated as such, not bargained away with probability until they drop below the threshold of action. And by that I mean any useful action whatsoever.

If you’ve ever heard someone mentioning some threat and realized, Hey! This has been mentioned regularly since I was a kid time and again, they always bring up the same points and recommend something, yet the cycle has repeated itself dozens of times and decades later we are not even a single step closer… you know what I mean by “below the threshold of action.”

There is scarcely a moment to lose. Every disaster scenario we DO throw money and resources at is pretty much an *IF*. Asteroid impact is a *WHEN*.

The Reverend Badger
Reply to  Hocus Locus
January 21, 2018 1:10 pm

Oh dear, I have offended someone on an internet blog. Must be a first! Is there a prize?

Seriously though, Hocus Locus, my “very very silly” comment is because the definition of “near” is too far. It needs to be more realistic, I’m not disagreeing with the potential threat of asteroids which ARE really “near” or the inevitability of a big hit sometime or the sense in thinking about planning for it or mitigating it. The “near” definition just needs to be much much more sensible numerical figure.

Reply to  Hocus Locus
January 22, 2018 4:19 pm

“There is an emerging human pathos in which everything is reduced to statistical probability regardless of its effect and consequence”

It’s worked for us so far.

January 21, 2018 6:21 am

Since asteroids can’t be taxed, it’s not a threat. Move along. Same thing happened to the dinosaurs, they were so wrapped up with meat eater violence, plant eater coexistence, size guilt, and evolution that they forgot to look up.

John Harmsworth
Reply to  Resourceguy
January 21, 2018 12:27 pm

But asteroid protection can betaxed. In true government fashion, they can fudge the data, hand out grants to political friends, skim off the top, build bureaucratic empires , create grandiose yet utterly useless plans and put off any real action as long as possible.
And blame their predeessor for the asteroids “aggressive” behaviour.

The Reverend Badger
Reply to  John Harmsworth
January 21, 2018 1:13 pm

“Unfortunately the course of XB234-HG-7 is no longer as predicted last week. It appears that the gravitational pull of the distant but exceptionally heavy XB235-HG-77i has MOVED THE GOALPOSTS”

John Harmsworth
Reply to  John Harmsworth
January 21, 2018 2:21 pm

Let me guess, it’s worse than we thought!

Reply to  John Harmsworth
January 21, 2018 4:40 pm

Okay, but it must not be part of the low hanging fruit among various options like CO2, mean corporations, sugar, and the rich.

Reply to  John Harmsworth
January 21, 2018 6:31 pm

Didn’t some reporter ask if the CO2 was the reason why the Earth has been hit by a lot of asteroids recently?

Gary Pearse
January 21, 2018 9:12 am

Gravity waves?

Pop Piasa
January 21, 2018 9:35 am

David Butler has a great teaching series on all this sort of ‘stuff’.
Great shots from the Hubble with explanations and theory included.
A wealth of free learning.

Pop Piasa
Reply to  Pop Piasa
January 21, 2018 9:39 am

Try a sample-

January 21, 2018 3:25 pm

In Minnesota, this is known as a SIGN. The Vikes will be at the Super Bowl, and they will WIN. (Between this and the SNOW in the Sahara 2 weeks ago, how can we not “believe”.)

Joel O’Bryan
Reply to  Max Hugoson
January 21, 2018 6:01 pm

[They’re] getting womped by the Eagles. Sorry. No sign.

Joel O’Bryan
Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
January 21, 2018 6:02 pm

they are (sigh, going for another beer and retiring from writing for the night)

Brett Keane
January 22, 2018 2:49 am

Now that NZ is a Space Nation, leave it to us. We will drop-kick any asteroid to Alpha Centauri. Or not.
Very proud, so I went to the pub yesterday after the launching to celebrate. Any excuse will do. The rockets are Carbon Fibre tubes with metallic wire laser printed Rutherford engines. Three cubesats in 500km orbits. Americas Cups, plastic yachts, hydrofoils, and now we have really gone crazy.

January 23, 2018 1:54 am

On a slightly different tack —
I find it interesting that American Meteor Society reports goes from less than a hundred per year in 2005 to over 5,000 per year in 2017. Why the BIG increase — better reporting, or more verified reporting in recent years, or maybe just more fireballs? Who can say?
All I can say is if you see one of these rare fireball events , please report it to

February 4, 2018 7:54 am

Yes the big one misses
Or at least if it was going to hit would you all really think the world would tell us months or days before hand.
As humans would act irrational riot and loot people would start going crazy if they felt they only had seconds to live. Much like the missile alerts that happened in Hawaii recently, the public response would be crazed. Did the Russians warn their people when the metor struck its land a few years ago? No they didnt how ever they were quick to reapond.
If the big one misses us great its the Debris floating alongside it that i worry about.
Imagine what new rare element’s this thing could be made of. Possable element’s that doesnt exist here on earth. Assuming we all live a chance to hit this thing and study the rock could prove valuables unknown.

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