One of the under-appreciated realities of life in this universe is that we’re still living with the effects of the Big Bang every moment of our lives. Gasses condensing into stars and planets do not simply halt at that point. Gravity created the universe, continues to create stars and continues to extinguish them. The swirling eddies of stars that make up galaxies may be 522,000 light-years across, but they are just the eons-long settling of debris from an unfathomably large explosion. And in the mean time, there’s a hell of a lot of extra stuff flying around, still looking for a home.
Luckily for us, we’re aware that at least one bit of debris is not going to find its home in a world-ending, planet-denting collision with our Mother Earth. Asteroid Apophis’ trajectory has been re-analyzed and found to be aimed refreshingly away from the Earth. That’s one down:
Discovered in 2004, the asteroid, which is the size of three-and-a-half football fields, gathered the immediate attention of space scientists and the media when initial calculations of its orbit indicated a 2.7 percent possibility of an Earth impact during a close flyby in 2029. Data discovered during a search of old astronomical images provided the additional information required to rule out the 2029 impact scenario, but a remote possibility of one in 2036 remained – until yesterday.
The bookies at NASA tell us there is less than a one-in-a-million chance of collision. Long enough odds that they’re willing to effectively rule it out. The asteroid will pass within about 19,000 miles from Earth. That doesn’t sound like a whole lot, and in the proportions we’re used to dealing with in space, it really isn’t. But another asteroid is scheduled to pass even closer – an even cozier 17,000 miles – and has barely received any particular press at all. That’s happening next month, by the way.
These kinds of things tend to make for some pretty easy headlines – hell, you clicked on it. And I published it – but the reality is that with as much stuff as exists in the universe with the power to kill us, stories like these could probably get published every day. In fact, asteroids are just what occasionally whiz by us as they pass in and out of the Kuiper Belt: a feature of our own Solar System. Danger is not at all exotic.