- News Home
17 April 2014 12:48 pm ,
Vol. 344 ,
Officials last week revealed that the U.S. contribution to ITER could cost $3.9 billion by 2034—roughly four times the...
An experimental hepatitis B drug that looked safe in animal trials tragically killed five of 15 patients in 1993. Now,...
Using the two high-quality genomes that exist for Neandertals and Denisovans, researchers find clues to gene activity...
A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that humanity has done little to slow...
Astronomers have discovered an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of a red dwarf—a star cooler than the sun—500...
Three years ago, Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University proposed that a warming Arctic was altering the behavior of the...
- 17 April 2014 12:48 pm , Vol. 344 , #6181
- About Us
Asteroid Threat Evaporates
6 November 2000 7:00 pm
Doomsday is not upon us yet. A day after announcing that an asteroid could collide with Earth in 2030 (ScienceNOW, 3 November), scientists with the International Astronomical Union (IAU) downgraded that chance to zero. New calculations show that asteroid 2000 SG344 will pass at least 4.4 million kilometers from Earth.
On Friday, IAU and NASA scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena gave the 30- to 70-meter-wide asteroid a one in 500 chance of smashing into Earth on 29 September 2030. The same day, scientists at the Catalina Sky Survey in Tucson, Arizona, identified 2000 SG344 on old images of the sky, allowing a more precise calculation of its orbit.
Ironically, the initial announcement was the first to follow a new set of IAU rules designed to avoid releasing false alarms. The guidelines state that the public should be notified of the potential danger of an asteroid within 72 hours of its discovery--enough time for scientists to verify that the danger is real, says David Morrison at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.
In this case, the new policy didn't prevent the false alarm, says Paul Chodas, the JPL scientist who discovered the object, because other astronomers didn't start sifting through their archived data fast enough. "We need to refine the process and emphasize to observatories that we need to dig out the data quickly," Chodas says.
In the meantime, many scientists wonder whether the celestial threat really is an asteroid at all. The fact that it closely follows Earth's orbit suggests it may just be a booster rocket from an Apollo-era space flight that reflects as much light as a large, stony asteroid, Chodas says. A rocket would pose little or no threat, as it would burn up almost entirely in the atmosphere before smashing into Earth.