An asteroid is scheduled to cruise through Earth’s neighbourhood ahead of the United States presidential election, but reports of it slamming into the U.S. on Nov. 2 are greatly exaggerated, experts say.
In other words, Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck and the asteroid-killing crew of Armageddon can stand down. For now.
The asteroid, dubbed 2018 VP1, is relatively tiny and poses a 0.41 per cent chance of actually hitting the planet, NASA said Sunday. And even if it did, it would likely burn up in the atmosphere “due to its extremely small size.”
NASA’s Asteroid Watch says the space rock is roughly two metres (6.5 feet) in diameter, and “poses no threat to Earth.”
The space agency sought to clear the air after a flurry of outlandish headlines about the asteroid, including some stories with images of a moon-sized rock obliterating the Earth just before the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 3.
Social media users pounced on some of the more sensational reports about the asteroid, with many jokingly suggesting that a world-ending collision might be a relief from the dire news cycle of 2020.
“A plague, hurricanes, murder hornets, asteroids, starvation, fires,” Twitter user @NYinLA2121 wrote. “Sunday funday in America.”
“Sorry, but an asteroid the size of an NBA point guard is not going to get done what we need done,” Twitter user @allahliker wrote, in a joke that received more than 2,000 likes.
“Does that asteroid coming for Earth have a Twitter account?” another user asked. “I want to have a chat/give it my exact location.”
“The key word there is close,” astronomer and blogger Phil Plait tweeted. “Sorry, people who want to blame 2020 on everything. This time, the year came through.”
The asteroid was first discovered in 2018 and is expected to pass Earth on Nov. 2, according to NASA’s close-approach data. Its most likely path will bring it within about 419,000 km of Earth, NASA says. That’s 1.09 times the distance between the Earth and the moon, or much further away than some of the other near-misses recorded in 2020.
NASA has reported two close calls with asteroids that the organization didn’t see coming this year. The first was a so-called “city killer” asteroid that was said to be up to 200 m in diameter, which hurtled past the Earth in June. That asteroid came from the direction of the sun, which helped obscure it from astronomers’ sensors until after it had passed. It passed at a distance of about 306,000 km, which is inside the moon’s orbit around Earth.
The sun also concealed a smaller, car-sized space rock that passed Earth by earlier this month. That asteroid, dubbed 2020 QG, whipped by at a distance of only 2,950 km from Earth, making it the closest near-miss with an asteroid on record. However, the space rock would have been too small to do any damage if it had fallen into our atmosphere, NASA said.
Hundreds of millions of space rocks fly past Earth or burn up in its atmosphere each year, NASA says. Few of them are large enough to make it down to the surface.
The Chicxulub meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs was an estimated 16 km wide.
There are no society-ending — or election-foiling — asteroids in the immediate forecast.