Just to be clear: asteroid YU55 is no danger to Earth

The entire universe in blog form
Nov. 7 2011 9:46 AM

Just to be clear: asteroid YU55 is no danger to Earth

Tomorrow, November 8, the 400-meter-wide asteroid 2005 YU55 will glide past the Earth, missing us by a very comfortable margin of 320,000 kilometers (200,000 miles). This distance is three-quarters of the way to the Moon, and is in fact so far that you'll need a decent telescope to see it at all.

However, I'm starting to see rumors that the asteroid will have an effect on us. I expected this -- it happens every time there's a decent-sized rock that whizzes past us. That's why I wrote a post about it a few months back, but I want to follow up on it. Why? I'm getting wind of some folks worried about YU55, including a couple of notes on Twitter saying there are people blaming Saturday's earthquake in Oklahoma on YU55!

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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Let me be clear: no asteroid, YU55 or otherwise, can cause earthquakes as they pass. Even Ceres, the largest asteroid in the solar system, would have to practically skim the top of our atmosphere to have any real effect on us. YU55 is dinky, and will miss us by 25 times the diameter of the Earth!

And c'mon: why would it shake up Oklahoma? Japan, Turkey, Chile, California -- there are dozens of seismically active spots on Earth that are more prone to earthquakes. Someone claiming an asteroid causing one in Oklahoma should set off alarm bells in your head*.

I'm sure there will be other claims as well. People will squeeze whatever they can out of this event. I saw it happen in 2008 when a similarly-sized rock, 2007 TU24, passed by us at a distance of more than half a million kilometers. Things got so ridiculous with the doomsday scaremongering back then that I made a video to alleviate fears. I've embedded it here; all you need to do is replace "2007 TU24" with "2005 YU55", and the 530,000 km miss by 320,000 kilometers, and all the stuff I said back then still applies.


And for those of you still prone to worry, let me add this: I was right. And when was the last time an end-of-the-world doom crier was right?

Let me give you a hint: Never.

Not that this will stop them. There're two things I know for sure: they'll never admit they were wrong, and there will always be something else. The next asteroid, the next full Moon, the next star they think will explode, a pole shift, whatever.

As long as people aren't familiar with the reality of the situation, there will be fearmongers to take advantage of the situation. That's a big reason I do what I do, and why I have to do what I do.

Image credit: NASA/Cornell/Arecibo



* You'd think at least they'd claim it was last week's solar flare that did it; after all, it's Oklahoma, where the solar wind comes sweepin' down the plain...




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