The Sciences

Repeat after me: asteroid 2007 TU24 is no danger to Earth

Bad AstronomyBy Phil PlaitJan 22, 2008 2:47 AM


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Hey, remember my slapping down a video that was full of baloney about asteroid TU24? Well, there is more of that garbage floating around You Tube, this time from user "TU24dotORG". The video in question is full of what I can politely call inaccuracies. The basic premise is that this asteroid, which will pass our planet by quite some distance on January 29, may cause all kinds of havoc on Earth. Why? Well, because they say so. For example, it says,

Although the chances of a direct impact with Earth are very minimal, truth is we don't know much about TU24.

"Very minimal" overstates it. The chances are essentially 0. It'll miss us by hundreds of thousands of kilometers. But that's not the point of that part of the video; the creator is trying to promote fear by saying astronomers don't understand the asteroid. The next part of the video points out a few things about the asteroid we don't know yet, like the asteroid's pole direction, its rotation period, the light curve amplitude, and the spectral class. Well, that means we don't know if it's spinning, how much the brightness fluctuates with time, or whether this is an iron or rocky asteroid. My reply to that is... so? While those may be of scientific interest, they make no difference at all to the fact that the asteroid won't hit us, and poses zero danger. That part of the video is literally laughable, in that I actually laughed out loud when I saw it. The next bit shows a webpage about the asteroid saying that better astrometry (physical measurements of the asteroid's position on the sky) is needed, but that's always true, for every asteroid! That has nothing to bear on the (false) claim that this asteroid is a threat. We need to refine the orbit of the object, get the error bars lowered in our ability to predict its future positions. But that doesn't mean we don't know where it will be in a few weeks to pretty good accuracy. This is simple fear mongering on the part of the person who made this video, and I take a very dim view of that. A very dim view. In the next section, the video creator says that Comet Holmes was "40% more massive than our Sun". This may be ad hominem, but I'd have a pretty hard time believing someone's claims when they confuse mass with size. Comet Holmes has a very small mass, more like that of a mountain, trillions of times less than the Sun's mass. While the expanding gas cloud from it got bigger than the Sun in diameter, it was very, very tenuous, like a high grade vacuum by lab standards. The mass was teeny tiny. The video creator then goes on about the electric universe, a long-discredited theory mostly supported by people who have a hard time grasping that large objects are electrically neutral. They think that things like the Earth exchange vast amounts of electric charge with everything around them, which is pretty silly. We have actual satellites in space that measure electrical and magnetic discharges, and while this stuff is extraordinarily complicated and the details certainly aren't ironed out, it's very clear that the claims of the EU people are totally wrong. To prove my point, the video then shows lightning, and says it's plasma discharge from the Sun. Oops. The guy who made the video confuses lightning with the aurora borealis. Not a good sign. Inexplicably, the video then jumps to 2007 WD5, an asteroid that will pass close to Mars around the same time TU24 passes the Earth. It says that WD5 picked up positive ions from the Earth when it passed us on November 2. Thing is, it passed us at a distance of 7 million kilometers. That's a wee bit far (18 times the Moon's distance) to have picked up anything from us! If it could do that, why doesn't the Moon pick up loads more charge? Oh yeah, because this stuff is wrong. Then the video gets nasty, and particularly evil. It says that TU24 (the one that gets kinda close to us later this month) could

... easily cause earthquakes, deadly storms, and massive eruptions of fire across hundreds or even thousands of square miles.

That's complete and utter crap. And it gets worse. It then says,

Think an asteroid can't do this? One already has... 100 years ago TUNGUSKA.

Yeah, well, there's an eensy weensy difference between the Tunguska impactor and TU24: the Tunguska impactor was an impactor. It hit us. TU24 won't hit us. Feh. Then the video does the usual and expected paranoid thing, saying NASA won't admit how close it will get, yadda yadda. Let me be perfectly clear: this video is almost entirely garbage. The asteroid will miss by hundreds of thousands of kilometers, so there will be no direct impact. There's no such thing as a "negative asteroid", like they claim, the plasma discharges they talk about are a totally different phenomenon, and nothing like that has ever been seen in an asteroid, nor will it ever. Asteroids don't carry charges like that, and wouldn't couple well with the Earth's magnetosphere the way they claim anyway. We're totally safe from this asteroid in January, and I'd bet anything on it. Literally. Some people might think I am being harsh; however, doomcryers are, in my opinion, among the lowest form of life. If they're conmen (or pranksters) then they're a particularly fetid brand of evil, and if they're honest, they're not trying very hard to educate themselves on reality (yet going to a lot more trouble to make YouTube videos about it). A third kind, of course, may be honest people with mental problems, and so in my opinion are worthy of our sympathy. But that doesn't mean we cannot take action to correct what they are doing. In the end, as well, all three kinds of fearmonger try very hard to scare people, and facts be damned. And many times I've seen people good and truly scared by garbage like this. I get emails... Needless to say I'll try to stay on top of stuff like this. I'm just glad in a week people like "TU24dotORG" will be out of a job. Temporarily, of course, until they find the next thing they can terrorize people with. Grrrrr.

Many thanks to BABLoggee Ibeechu for letting me know about this.

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