- Grab the binoculars, kids, an aircraft-sized asteroid will be closer than the Moon tonight. (Awesome graphic courtesy of the Kurdistan Planetarium)
Tonight around 6:30 p.m., earth's innerspace will be violated by a hulking asteroid called 2005 YU55. It will not hit the planet, but rather pass at just under 9/10ths the distance from us to the moon.
This momentous flyby marks the "closest approach by an asteroid that large that we've known about in advance," according to NASA. At 1,300 feet across, the space rock is twice the size of the National Museum of American History. If it hit the Earth, which it won't, it would explode with the force of 500 nukes and create a tsunami that would crest above six-story buildings.
So where do you plan to be when civilization ends tonight? That's the message I'm getting from certain media outlets reporting about this astronomical event. They tend to lead their stories with a flurry of scary asteroid facts and then sidle into a big "But...." Who are the worst offenders of the YU55 fake-out lede? Let's take a look:
1st Place: The Daily Mail's Ted Thornhill
Words used before mention of the non-impact: 459, or nine paragraphs (and two images)
It’s well known that a large meteorite hitting the Earth would not be good news, as it would cause earthquakes, tsunamis and firestorms.
However, scientists have created a new model for predicting the impact of such collisions that shows the devastation wouldn’t be anywhere near as severe as previously thought....
Research leader Matthias Meschede said: ‘After a meteorite impact, seismic waves travel outward across the Earth's surface like after a stone is thrown in water.....
(Blah blah blah... normally I wouldn't blockquote so much of a story, but I don't think the Daily Mirror could complain)
Mr Meschede’s team used their model to produce a fresh simulation of the meteorite crash that wiped out the dinosaurs 65million years ago and caused the huge Chicxulub crater, which can be seen from space.
The space rock was the mass of Mountt Everest – when its tip hit Mexico the tail was still 35,000 feet up.
It was the equivalent of two million hydrogen bombs going off – yet the Munich team have downplayed its effects, claiming that the tsunamis and earthquakes that resulted were enough to wipe out the dinosaurs, but the shock-waves' that caused them would have been weakened by the planet’s landscape.
Mr Meschede added: 'Our results go beyond Chicxulub. We can, in principle, now estimate how large a meteorite would have to have been to cause catastrophic events. Our model can be used to estimate the magnitude and effect of other major impacts in Earth's past.'
Tomorrow an asteroid the size of four football pitches called 2005 YU55 will pass between the Earth and Moon....
2nd Place: Roger Highfield, editor of New Scientist (really???)
Words used before mention of the non-impact: 231, or five paragraphs
It's about the size of an aircraft carrier, roughly spherical and darker than charcoal. And it's heading our way. The US space agency Nasa expects asteroid 2005 YU55 to fly past Earth today. For many of us, this 400-metre-wide rock will trigger a shiver of unease, kindling ancient, visceral superstitions. Before science, fireballs and meteorite falls were often interpreted as omens of doom.
Thanks to science, we now know that the demise of the dinosaurs was linked with the crash of a 10km-wide rock 65 million years ago in present-day Mexico, an earth-rocking impact that shrouded the planet in darkness and triggered a global winter.
But for scientists, 2005 YU55 is a thing of wonder that has to be put into perspective. Every day about 160 tonnes of rubble rains down on us.
Most of this detritus originated in the vast cloud of dust and gas that gave birth to our solar system more than 4.5 billion years ago. At first, budding planets and asteroids formed by sweeping material from this cloud. Then, as the solar system matured, chance impacts between the asteroids caused them to fall into chaotic orbits, later to crash into planets.
Today Nasa detects and tracks asteroids and comets passing close to Earth. The Near-Earth Object Observations Programme, or "Spaceguard", plots their orbits to determine if any could be a worry. At one time Nasa had classified 2005 YU55 as a potential threat. Now it has ruled out the risk of an asteroid impact for the next 100 years....
3rd Place: WTOP's Paul D. Shinkman.
Words used before mention of the non-impact: 79, or three paragraphs
WASHINGTON -- You won't want to close your eyes, you won't want to fall asleep. If scientists are wrong, not even Ben Affleck can save you.
An asteroid the size of the U.S.S. Nimitz is bearing down on Earth. NASA's Near-Earth Object Program says the impact of the rock, dubbed 2005 YU55, would equal a 4,000-megaton blast and create 70-foot high tsunami waves, CBS News reports.
That's near 200,000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
Fortunately for us, NASA predicts the murderous cosmic body will miss our planet by about 202,000 miles....
In other words, PSYCHE!!!!