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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

No, Asteroid 2014 UR 116 Is Not Going to Hit the Earth

By Phil Plait

This is Part N of what is apparently an infinite series of “No, Asteroid XXX Is Not Going to Hit the Earth” posts.

So on Oct. 24, 2014, a team of Russian astronomers found a near-Earth asteroid. Designated 2014 UR116, it’s somewhere around 400 meters across, which is decent-sized. If it were to hit us, that would be bad.

The good news is it can’t hit us. It really can’t; over the next century or so the orbit doesn’t bring it any closer than about 5 million kilometers or so. That’s a pretty wide margin, well over 10 times the distance to the Moon.

The Lomonosov Moscow State University (which hosts the telescopes used to find the rock) has a page up saying the asteroid theoretically can hit us, but I’d call that a bit of a stretch. Unfortunately, the Christian Science Monitor picked up on this and posted an article about it as well. The article does say there’s little chance of it hitting, but also has this sentence under the title: “In a video posted online Sunday, astrophysicist Vladimir Lipunov says the newly discovered asteroid could collide with Earth during its three-year orbital cycle.” I suspect he meant theoretically as well, in the far distant future, but in practical terms for the near future it can’t.

The original Lomonosov page got on Reddit, too. So the news got around, prompting the JPL Near Earth Object Program to put up a page saying there’s no risk from this asteroid. I have to agree. Sometimes we can’t know the orbit of an asteroid well because it hasn’t been observed enough, but in this case there are 300 observations spanning six years (it was only discovered a month or so ago, but once the orbit is determined it can be backtracked to see if it appears in older observations), which is pretty good. It doesn’t come anywhere near us for at least a century.

Of course, breathless conspiracy theorists are speculating rampantly about this; YouTube videos are easy enough to find (I’ll leave to you to find them if you care enough). But that happens Every. Single. Time. an asteroid is found that comes within a few million kilometers of Earth. I’ll note these conspiracy theorists and doomsday mongers have been correct exactly zero times.

Asteroids are a real concern, and we do need to be searching for them. But, like so many others we find, 2014 UR116 can be safely put into the “Nope” column.

Tip o' the isostatic resonance to Ron Baalke.

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