Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Asteroid dodgeball

One has to wonder what people get from forecasting the end of the world.

Because some people are really into this.  You've got your religious/End Times Crowd, but they're not the only ones.  There's the We're All Going To Die In An Epidemic Cadre, the Yellowstone Supervolcano Will End Life As We Know It Club, and the ever-present Economic Collapse Will Result In Global War Association.

And is it just me, or do these people seem kind of... happy about the whole idea?

Me, I'm not so thrilled by the prospect.  It's not that life is perfect, but hell, I'll take what I have over everyone in the country dying of Ebola, or being smothered by a giant ash cloud, or even the rivers running red with the blood of unbelievers.

And of course, those aren't the only ways the world could end.  Massive earthquakes, tsunamis, even alien invasions could do the trick.  And if that's not enough, we now have an article bouncing about in the social media that claims that we're all about to die...

... in an asteroid collision.

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

The site Cosmos Up, which sounds more reputable than it actually turns out to be, ran an article last week called "Dangerous Asteroid Rapidly Approaching Earth?" in which we find out that the euphoniously-named 2014 UR116 is about to play a cosmic game of Whack-a-Mole with the Earth.  Here's how they describe it.  Grammar and spelling is as-written, so you can get the overall charming effect of the original:
A large asteroid named 2014 UR116 is moving into an orbit, most likely involving a collision with Earth. Asteroid flies inside the solar system.

His route is similar to the trajectory of the Chelyabinsk meteorite. He flies by planet, Venus and Mars, and is a real danger for the inhabitants of the earth.
He does that, does he?  I'm scared already.
Russia’s only network of robotic telescopes MASTER created by Lomonosov Moscow State University University in collaboration with the three domestic universities (Ekaterinburg, Irkutsk and Blagoveshchensk), Kislovodsk Station of the Pulkovo Observatory RAS and the University of San Juan (Argentina), an asteroid discovered in 2014 UR116, – more than 300 meters in diameter – which can collide with the Earth. This was reported by the laboratory site space monitoring MSU.
So far, sounds at least vaguely scientific.  But then, the author goes on to tell us the following:
Exact trajectory of the asteroid 2014 UR116 yet impossible to determine, but theoretically it could collide with the Earth, and Mars and Venus. The energy of the explosion, in the event of a collision with the Earth, a thousand times greater than the explosion of Chelyabinsk asteroid.
It's going to collide with the Earth and Mars and Venus?  One right after the other, or something?  On the other hand, if they mean that we can't tell which one it's going to hit, that's kind of a high uncertainty value.  According to the site Wolfram Alpha, the current distance between Earth and Mars is 157.9 million miles.  If that's the size of the error bars in their trajectory calculations, I'll take my chances, you know?

But of course, "We Don't Know And It Probably Won't Hit The Earth, But Even So, It's A Pretty Big Chunk Of Space Rock" doesn't make nearly as snappy a headline as "Dangerous Asteroid Rapidly Approaching Earth."

Still, you have to wonder why the people currently forwarding this article on Twitter and Facebook seem so... cheery about the whole thing.  Myself, I think that being at ground zero of an asteroid strike would be unpleasant, at least during the 2.8 nanoseconds before I was vaporized by the impact. You'd think people would be circulating articles saying, "Hey, Isn't It Cool That We've Found Another Asteroid That Won't Hit Us?" instead of articles saying "Fuck, We're All Gonna Die."

Yet another way in which I don't get human nature.  I'll add it to the list.

1 comment:

  1. I think it shows how damned ... exciting a lot of beliefs can be. Even if it's not that exciting for many of us, the whole coolness effect of such a massive asteroid slamming right into this beautiful planet and BANG! Such a powerful and destructive force ... vaguely rousing as an action scene on the big screen, except for that first brilliantly destructive blast, which is just so damned cool.
    Don't know how commonly this theme takes a part in some people's belief system, or if indeed it exists outside of my head.
    Thank you for your time.