Dear Earthlings, stop worrying about an asteroid collision in September.
That’s the message from NASA, which countered a viral rumor Wednesday with a news release.
The headline was blunt: “NASA: There is No Asteroid Threatening Earth.”
“There is no scientific basis — not one shred of evidence — that an asteroid or any other celestial object will impact Earth” on the rumored dates, said NASA’s Paul Chodas, manager at NASA’s Near-Earth Object office. The Near-Earth Object office is based at Pasadena, California’s, Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Moreover, said Chodas, the chances of an asteroid striking in the next century are minuscule.
“Not a single one of the known objects has any credible chance of hitting our planet over the next century,” he said. The chances of a “Potentially Hazardous Asteroid” — as they are known — striking our little blue planet? Less than 0.01%.
That’s not nothing, but it’s not terrible, either, As astronomer Phil Plait observed in a 2014 Slate article, the odds of dying in an asteroid impact are 1 in 700,000. You have more of a chance of being struck by lightning in your lifetime (1 in 3,000) or finding a pearl in an oyster (1 in 12,000).
But that hasn’t stopped panic from engulfing the Great Panic-making Machine, also known as the Internet. The rumor maintains that an area around Puerto Rico will be struck by an asteroid between September 15 and September 28. Depending on where you got the word, the coming destruction is related to the Bible Code, a letter from a self-proclaimed prophet or theories from end-times conspiracists.
As NASA noted in responses from its @AsteroidWatch Twitter account, they’re hoaxes.
“Completely fake story,” @AsteroidWatch said to one poster. “No worries.”
Of course, objects hit Earth all the time, usually to little or no effect.
“The Earth gets hit by about 100 tons of material every day,” wrote Plait — mostly small pebbles that we see as shooting stars. On rare occasions, such as the Chelyabinsk fireball of February 2013, the space rocks are big enough to cause damage.
NASA has a desktop application to help amateur astronomers find asteroids, and a group of sky-watchers (including Queen guitarist Brian May, who’s also an astrophysicist) created Asteroid Day, which was held June 30 for the first time.
But world-ending catastrophe? You have to go back millions of years to find asteroids that caused that kind of damage. It’s happened, of course — it could be the reason dinosaurs now exist only as fossils — but unlikely.
So if you’re worried about cataclysmic asteroids coming next month, back away from the computer … unless you’re following @AsteroidWatch or scouting for threats.