The Sciences

2007 TU24: Told ya so

Bad AstronomyBy Phil PlaitJan 29, 2008 2:43 PM


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So, are we still alive? (checks outside) Hmm, beautiful day, a little nippy, but blue skies. The Rockies are still standing. The news sites are reporting on the Republican primary in Florida and Britney Spears, so clearly that's normal. But wait! My pwnage by Wil Wheaton got on both Fark and Digg and my server is still running! It must be due to TU24! Feh. So, let's see; I said this would be a non-event. Others -- specifically someone going by the moniker TU24dotORG claimed it would rain down death and destruction, going so far as to make videos, create a website, and even make up a threat level assessment (which, as I write this, is still at its highest setting):

And here we are, many many hours after closest approach, and nothing happened. Nothing at all. Shocker. Man, I really really can't stand the type of people who take a harmless event (or a non-existent one) and scare people with it. I still don't know their motives; hoaxers, honest but misguided, or mentally unbalanced. But it's clearly one of those three. Because, as I have said many times, they are most certainly wrong. Now if I hadn't been overrun with things to do (and suffering through a massive sinus attack right now), I would have posted making predictions about how this doomcrier would backpedal furiously when the time came... and passed. In all honesty, my first prediction would have been that (s)he would say something like "Give it some more time." That is what TU24dotORG did. On the TU24 website, now 8 hours past perigee (closest approach) as I write this, it says:

For those who can't read the image, it says:

For as long as TU24 is near Earth's magnetosphere there is a possibility of disturbance. This website is not (and was never) about impact. If you're wondering why "nothing happened" you're counting your chickens too soon.

That's right, you must wait for the consequences, because, after all, electricity flows so slowly it may take days or weeks for the effects to occur! Yeah, right. They dare say something like that, after showing a video that had all sorts of dire consequences listed. There is a link that goes to a section of that site with a discussion forum. It says:

This is about effect, not impact. There was never a real chance for impact. (Why do people continue to talk about it?) TU24 will be tracking us for about 6-7 days, starting from the 29th. This is made clear on the front page of this website. During this time there could be some effects.

I'm not sure what (s)he means about "tracking us". Does the asteroid have a gun, and it's waiting in the bushes? What the asteroid is doing in reality is moving away from us at many miles per second. If anything were going to happen, it would have happened hours ago. When someone (quite correctly) posts "Oh, please. The asteroid has been approaching us for weeks. Now, it's past the point where it was closest to us. NOW you say there will be effects?" the website owner replies:

This is the last time I will answer this very simple question. It is not about the closest approach date and time. It is about TU24 being in our magnetosphere. (As per the video) For now and the next several days this is a very real possibility.

That's just plain old ridiculous. If the asteroid ever did enter our magnetosphere (it's unclear; it depends on the exact shape of the Earth's magnetic field at the time and the path of the rock) then it did so before perigee and stayed in there for some time. Magnetism doesn't just hang out and wait a few days to make its effects known. Had this Electric Universe nonsense had any validity at all, the effects would have been immediate. TU24dotORG was wrong. Totally and completely. It's just that simple. I'll also note that replies are turned off on the TU24 discussion board for that thread. Hmmm. So now I predict the doomsayers will backpedal more. The asteroid didn't have an electric charge. It was charged, but it wasn't a negative charge. It didn't penetrate our magnetosphere deeply enough. Something from the Sun neutralized it. Or they might go the Nancy Lieder route and point at every little thing as a sign from the asteroid: a storm over the central US. An earthquake in Turkey. A light bulb breaking in Piscataway. Their dog barked in the middle of the night. Mark my words: there will be many, many excuses, but no apologies. And no doubt they will play up the January 30th encounter of asteroid 2007 WD5 with Mars, though again, nothing at all will happen. There is one absolutely guaranteed truth out of all of this (besides that science was totally right and antiscience was totally wrong): they or someone else will be back. It will be the Sun's new cycle, or the Mayan 2012 nonsense, or something pulled right out of thin air. I sometimes wonder if it matters what the event actually is. All that really seems to matter is that something cool happens in the sky, and someone, somewhere, has to soil it by using it to scare people. Well, feh. When it happens there will be scientists around, people who will tell you the actual truth. And if there does come a day when something worrisome this way comes, we'll still be there to tell you the truth. That's what science is, and that's how it works. And it does work.

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