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Space Earth

No, a Huge Asteroid Is Not "Set To Wipe Out Life On Earth In 2880" 123

An anonymous reader writes "Phil Plait wants you to know that asteroid 1950 DA is very, very unlikely to hit the Earth in 2880, despite what you may have read. He writes: "As it happens, 1950 DA is what's called a 'near-Earth asteroid', because its orbit sometimes brings it relatively close to Earth. I'll note that I mean close on a cosmic scale. Looking over the next few decades, a typical pass is tens of millions of kilometers away, with some as close as five million kilometers — which is still more than ten times farther away than the Moon! Still, that's in our neighborhood, which is one of the reasons this asteroid is studied so well. It gets close enough that we can get a decent look at it when it passes. Can it impact the Earth? Yes, kindof. Right now, the orbit of the asteroid doesn't bring it close enough to hit us. But there are forces acting on asteroids over time that subtly change their orbits; one of them is called the YORP effect, a weak force that arises due to the way the asteroid spins and radiates away heat. The infrared photons it emits when it's warm carry away a teeny tiny bit of momentum, and they act pretty much like an incredibly low-thrust rocket. Over many years, this can change both the rotation of the asteroid as well as the shape of its orbit."
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No, a Huge Asteroid Is Not "Set To Wipe Out Life On Earth In 2880"

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  • Actually... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Sunday August 17, 2014 @07:49PM (#47691533)

    Everything I've read said it's very unlikely to hit Earth in 2880. One chance in three hundred does not "likely" make.

    On the other hand, 1 in 300 is pretty close to the chance of a Straight coming up without a Draw....

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 17, 2014 @08:07PM (#47691601)

    An event that has a one-in-a-million odds of destroying our civilization is actually pretty bad, in my mind. Even if you just do the math of 7 billion people, that's an 'expected value' of 7,000 casualties. But in addition to killing people, it would destroy the work of millions before them - the art, the literature, the achievements, the history, the future too. There must be some value in that. I know realistically we have to accept some risk just because we can't afford to deal with all the risks out there, on top of the risks from global warming down here. But the threshold should be really really low, and we should pursue plans and technologies to defend ourselves from asteroid impacts, even really unlikely ones.

  • Re:Actually... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AthanasiusKircher ( 1333179 ) on Sunday August 17, 2014 @08:39PM (#47691739)

    On the other hand, 1 in 300 is pretty close to the chance of a Straight coming up without a Draw....

    That number is an old estimate which appeared in the article that TFA was actually complaining about for sensationalizing things. The current estimate is more like 1 in 4000, which is more like drawing 4-of-a-kind in five cards... not exactly a common poker hand.

The moon may be smaller than Earth, but it's further away.