Posts Tagged ‘Asteroid’

Asteroid 2012 DA14 will not impact Earth

January 11, 2013 Leave a comment

da14orbitWritten by Leslie Haze of

It seems these days any information regarding an announcement of a Near Earth Asteroid (NEA) coming remotely close to Earth spirals out of control within minutes on the internet by “doomsday prophets”. It is inevitable. What they fail to recognize or report are the facts or truth. No research is done and the doomsday prophets immediately go into internet viral mode. It is unfortunate for the doomsayers because it will only add one more failed prediction to their rapidly infinite list of crock predictions. These tiresome predictions only confirm their idiocy.

Asteroid 2012 DA14 is a moderate asteroid classified 0 (No Hazard) on the Torino scale. This means no threat to Earth. This statement of course has no bearing for conspirators. This is not enough evidence to prove to someone who is unconvinced. Here I will explain how if the asteroid made impact with Earth, it would be so miniscule it would embarrass your dog. How could I possibly know this? Simple research of facts with side by side comparisons of similar asteroids. If you claim to be a “seeker of TRUTH” keep reading or you may stop now if you are looking for more hyped up disinformation.

Asteroid 2012 DA14 is only 45 meters or 148 feet in diameter. About the size of a commercial airliner. If the asteroid made it into Earth’s atmosphere it would most likely disintegrate some kilometers above the ground in a large explosion, which if it occurred over a populated area, would cause severe personal and structural damage. What does that mean? Anything 75 meters or less in diameter would not survive intact during its passage through our atmosphere.

Hypothetically let’s say DA14 miraculously didn’t disintegrate while entering the Earth’s atmosphere or was more than 75 meters in diameter. Let’s compare DA14 with the the Barringer Crater in Arizona. The meteorite that impacted here was a rare Type M made of metallic iron and was only 50 meters in diameter. This is the measurement after most of it burned up in the atmosphere. The Barringer Crater is 1,200 m (4,000 ft) in diameter, some 170 m deep (570 ft). Since the Barringer Crater meteorite was made of metallic iron (Type M) the impact caused far more damage because it was so heavy. Still it hardly produced an Extinction Level Event (ELE). (Please note there are 3 classifications of asteroids.)

It is estimated that more than 75% of all asteroids in the solar system are carbonaceous (Type C). Type C asteroids are asteroids made of carbonates. Composition is thought to be similar to the Sun, depleted in hydrogen, helium, and other volatiles. Type C asteroids inhabit the main belt’s outer regions, where as Type M is metallic Iron. The likelihood of DA14 being a Type M is 1% and the likelihood of a Type M actually impacting Earth makes the odds even less. On top of this, the likelihood of DA14 hitting a populated area makes it slim to none. You would have a better chance of winning the lottery. To give you a better understanding it would be like comparing a bowling ball (Type M) to a volleyball (Type C). Type C asteroids are much lighter and less destructive. Since Type C asteroids are less dense, they have a greater probability of breaking up into hundreds of pieces as they enter the atmosphere. Coincidentally the asteroid that created the Barringer Crater, even being a Type M, broke up before impact as well.

If asteroid DA14 were to enter Earth’s atmosphere on Feb 15, 2013 the explosion would produce the equivalent of 2.4 megatons of TNT. The asteroid that created the Barringer Crater had an impact energy estimated at about 10 megatons. That is about a 1/4 of what DA14 is estimated. Let’s say our calculations are off and it makes it into Earth’s atmosphere. Based on the facts given, DA14 would probably destroy a small neighborhood if it even were to explode above a populated area which is less likely than likely. The Earth is about 75% water and only 3% of land surface is covered by populated urban areas according to GRUMP data-sets. This means there is about a 3% chance the asteroid would explode near a populated area.

Based on all the facts given, even if DA14 was miraculously made of metallic iron we can see by comparing the Barringer Crater this would be the maximum damage. (Note: the Barringer Asteroid was much larger before it entered Earth’s atmosphere.) The damage it caused was nowhere near being an Extention Level Event. Sorry to disappoint anyone.

Asteroid 2012 DA14 will also not be visible to the naked eye. Also according to NASA/JPL there is an estimated cumulative 0.033% risk (1 in 3,030) of 2012 DA14 impacting Earth sometime between 2026 and 2069. There is an estimated cumulative 0.00018% risk (1 in 556,000) of 2012 DA14 impacting Earth sometime between 2078 and 2111.

So, to sum up:

  • The asteroid will not impact Earth on February 15, 2013.
  • There is an estimated cumulative 0.00018% risk (1 in 556,000) of 2012 DA14 impacting Earth sometime between 2078 and 2111.
  • It is rated a low −5.78 on the Palermo Scale. (The risk is less than 1/500000 of the estimated risk of another similarly sized near earth asteroid hitting Earth during that time period. It is estimated that there are more than a million near-Earth asteroids smaller than 100 meters.)
  • It rates 0 (No Hazard) on the Torino scale.
  • If it were to hit Earth, it is estimated that it would produce the equivalent of 2.4 megatons of TNT. The Tunguska event has been estimated at 3−20 megatons.
  • In 2012 there was a cumulative 0.033% risk (1 in 3,030) of 2012 DA14 impacting Earth sometime between 2026 and 2069. In 2012 it was also known that the asteroid would pass no closer to Earth’s surface than 3.2 Earth radii.

Cosmophobia – An unreasoning fear of the cosmos

January 5, 2013 Leave a comment

Now that 2012 is behind us and all of the doomsday predictions of December 21st failed, Bill Hudson (a.k.a. ‘Astrogeek’) founder of the website has created a new site for 2013 and beyond. Dealing with yet more doomsday predictions that are already in full swing on numerous conspiracy websites, fears from comet impacts to rogue planets, this is Cosmophobia.What the heck is “Cosmophobia”? You may be wondering:

Astronomer David Morrison, Senior scientist with the NASA Lunar Science Institute, coined the term ‘cosmophobia’ after answering questions at the NASA “Ask an Astrobiologist” page. He defined it as “An unreasoning fear of the cosmos”, and created a short list of items that people are worried about.

A presentation at the Astronomical Society of the Pacific’s annual meeting in Tuscon in August 2012 was titled “Doomsday 2012 and Cosmophobia: Challenges and Opportunities for Science Communication” and is available for viewing via NASA’s website.

This site grew out of the 2012hoax website, at the end of 2012. It was felt that despite the fact that 2012 had ended without the various predictions of doom and destruction the resources gathered under the 2012hoax website would still be necessary in the future. Many of the predictions made about 2012 originated well before 2012, and would continue to be claimed well after 2012.

This site will deal with various claims that invoke ‘cosmophobia’, where the fear factor is pumped up in claims in order to make something fairly mundane sound sinister and threatening. In addition to claims made about astronomy, we will also look into claims touching on other fields of science such as geology and vulcanology. We will approach all claims from a perspective of skeptical inquiry. The claimant must provide evidence that supports their claims, and extraordinary claims will require extraordinary evidence.

The Cosmophobia website:
The Cosmophobia discussion board:
The Cosmophobia Facebook Group:


December 4, 2011 3 comments

UPDATE: Since the Comet Elenin Doomsday conspiracies fell to pieces, quite literally, Marshall Masters of has removed all Comet Elenin material from the front page of his website. No admissions of being wrong and no apologies for creating unnecessary fear mongering. But honestly, did you really expect anything else?

Well its been a while since we posted anything, but thought it best we show how wrong the doomcryers were, yet again! We’re going to keep this short and sweet so let’s get this nonsense out of the way. First let us go back a little to May 21 of this year; we had the false prophet Harold Camping predicting the end of the world, that was cancelled until October 21, well nothing happened, we’re still here! We had comet Honda pass the Earth on August 15, it didn’t hit us, we’re still here! We had doomcryers predicting that asteroid 2005 YU55 would smash into the Earth on November 8th, it didn’t, we’re still here! But now for the biggie, how can we forget comet Elenin, or the Brown Dwarf star Nibiru as many were saying. First of all it was exactly what it was said to be, a comet, and a wimpy comet at that. Yet we had the imbecile narcissist Marshall Masters saying otherwise. Anyway back in August comet Elenin started disintegrating and was reduced to nothing more than dust, Good’ol yowusa soon jumped on that news too. Well we didn’t pass through its debris, we didn’t all get poisioned and we didn’t all turn into zombies and start eating eachother! However we cannot forget the all important date regarding this comet, October 16, when the remnant of Elenin made its closest approach to Earth. It passed by at the precise distance NASA and the astronomers studying this object said it would, 0.2338 AU (34,980,000 km; 21,730,000 mi) and now Elenin, or rather what’s left of it, is on its way back out into deep space. There was a whole bunch more of predictions we could have covered here but quite frankly it wasn’t worth it, the outcome for all is the same, they failed. We’re now in December and 2012 is around the corner, the true great year for ‘EPIC FAILNESS!’ Who knows what other crackpot theories and predictions these lunatics will dig up as we go through the year. We really cannot wait for it to arrive and have fun once again debunking them all. I wonder what the next big doomsday prediction will be when the 2012/Nibiru one falls flat on its face? How about 2020? That’s a nice even number isn’t it? Actually here’s a better idea for all the doomcryers, how about when 2012 fails and we pass into 2013, then 2014 etc, you unplug your PC from the wall, then unplug your brain from your ass and go outside and actually do something constructive and worthwhile with your lives? Nuff said.

No, 2005 YU55 Won’t Destroy The Earth

July 28, 2011 Leave a comment

On November 8th of this year, the 400-meter-wide asteroid 2005 YU55 will pass the Earth, missing us by the comfortable margin of 325,000 kilometers (200,000 miles).

While this is the largest asteroid (that we know of) to swing past us for the next 17 years or so, YU55 is not an immediate threat to Earth. Its orbit does bring it close enough to our planet that it’s been deemed a potentially hazardous asteroid, but the orbit is well-enough known that we can rule out an impact for at least the next century. That’s long enough for me personally to not be concerned.

I’ve seen some small amount of buzz on the usual conspiracy sites about this asteroid, and I do see some folks trying to play this up a bit (search on “YU55 doomsday” for example), but fear-mongering chatter is surprisingly low for this event. I expect that by this fall you’ll be seeing breathless YouTube videos accusing NASA of covering up a imminent impact — and I don’t say this blithely; it’s happened before. Remember asteroid 2007 TU24? No? That’s because nothing happened, despite the claims of panic-promoters.

As you can see in this JPL animation below, in November YU55 will miss us by a cosmic mile as well (click to embiggen and get a clearer animation):

You can see the Earth at the center (the diagonal line if the Earth’s orbit around the Sun), the Moon orbiting the Earth, and the path of YU55. The scale on the bottom is a million kilometers, about 620,000 miles. The Moon’s orbit is roughly 770,000 km (475,000 miles) wide. The path of YU55 cuts a shallow chord across the Moon’s orbit, well away from our planet.

Still, there’s a chance for some real science on this rock. At that distance, it’ll appear so small (1/4 arcseconds across, where the Moon is 1800 arcsec across for comparison) that it’ll be too small even for Hubble to make much of it — at best, in Hubble’s cameras it will appear to be just two pixels across. And that’s even if Hubble could track it, which it can’t.

But the Deep Space Network of radio telescopes can actually get very high resolution imagery using sophisticated techniques, possibly getting images with a resolution of just 4 meters — the size of an SUV — on the asteroid. That means YU55 will be 100 pixels across, enough to see some details on the surface, including craters, boulders, and even possibly a moon if it has one. Pretty cool.

So anyway, just in case the icky underside of the internet tries to play this up later this year, shouting doom-and-gloom, let me be clear:

By Phil Plait.

Comet Elenin is NOT a satellite of a Brown Dwarf Star

June 10, 2011 3 comments

Written by Ian Musgrave of Astroblog.

Space is big, you think it’s a long way to the shop if you want a sausage roll, but compared to space it’s nothing [1]. Against this vastness our sense of scale is confounded.

An example of this came this week when a correspondent asked me about my observations of comet 2010 X1 Elenin [2]. One of the prominent internet memes going around at the moment is that Elenin is actually the Moon of a Brown Dwarf star or a Brown Dwarf star itself (often claimed to be 4 times Jupiter’s size). I was asked if I could look out for something dim close to Elenin. There is just one problem, a Brown Dwarf close to Elenin would be very bright. Elenin currently is just outside the orbit of Mars (visualised in Celestia, click images to enlarge)

Brown Dwarf stars are stars that have only a few times the mass and radius of Jupiter; they are too small to start hydrogen fusion, although they may run for a short while on deuterium fusion. They are typically quite cool compared to main sequence stars, and emit very little visible light.

From a distance of a few light years or more they are invisible to optical telescopes. To find these dim almost-stars, we need to look with infrared sensitive telescopes. For example the WISE telescope had as one of its missions surveying for Brown Dwarfs. The coolest Brown Dwarf so far discovered by WISE is WISEPC J045853.90+643451.9 which is over 18 light years away. With a temperature of 600 K it is hot enough to melt lead and tin, but is totally invisible to our current optical telescopes.

But while these almost stars produce very little visible light of their own, they reflect light perfectly well. If you go out in the early morning and look to the north-east, you will see a bright object well above the horizon (brighter Venus is well below it). That is Jupiter, a failed Brown-Dwarf, which we can see just fine.

Elenin is currently just outside Mars’s orbit, we can easily calculate how bright an object 4 times Jupiter’s size would be at that distance using the formulas here. I’ve put my calculations up on Google Docs for people to play with (click this link for access to spreadsheet [3]).

Simulation of what a Brown Dwarf would look like in the sky tonight if it was near comet Elenin’s current position. I’ve used Stellarium’s cometary body codes, using a dark, non-luminous object with 4 times Jupiter’s diameter. It would be kind of obvious. If a Brown Dwarf with a surface much darker than the Moon was at Elenin’s distance (as of June 1), it would have a magnitude of -6.5.

This is much brighter than Venus, bright enough to cast shadows at night and bright enough to be easily seen in daylight. This is an under estimate, as a Brown Dwarf would be more likely to be more reflective, more like Jupiter. An object 4 times Jupiter’s size just outside Mars’s orbit would also be visible as a small disk (you can do the calculations for this one as an exercise for yourselves, see the Stellarium simulation above).

Simulating a non-self luminous Brown Dwarf using fruit. The granny smith apple is the Brown dwarf. Left hand panel, the Brown Dwarf at Pluto’s orbit. Right hand panel, the brown Dwarf at Mars’s orbit. The mandarin is Jupiter, the lillypilli pit is Mars and and the lillypilliy (closest to torch) is Earth. Distances have been scaled at 10 cm= I AU.

Brown Dwarfs are only invisible to us because they lie deep in the vasty dark, away from any light sources that can illuminate them. This is what causes confusion for some folks. Brown Dwarfs themselves produce little or no visible light but they are perfectly capable of reflecting light, as does Jupiter.

Here’s a test you can do yourself with a torch an some pieces of fruit. I’ve scaled the solar system so that 1 AU (the distance from Earth to the Sun) is 10 cm from the torch I’m using as the Sun. Mars’s orbit lies 25 cm away, Jupiter’s orbit is 62 cm away and Pluto’s orbit is 4 meters away. The orbit of the hypothetical planet Tyche would be two blocks away, and the nearest star, Proxima Centauri, lies 2.7 km away on the other side of Taperoo. I’ve used a lillypilli for Earth, a mandarin for Jupiter and an apple for a Brown Dwarf (see diagram above).

Strictly speaking, if I wanted to scale the diameters of the planets to the scale of the solar system, then I would have used 1 meter for 1 AU, them the Brown Dwarf would be 2 mm in diameter (I leave it as an exercise for the reader to test this themselves).

As you can see, when the non-self luminous “Brown Dwarf” is at Pluto’s distance, it is fairly dim, but when we move the “Brown Dwarf” to just outside of Mars’s orbit, it is quite bright. The atmosphere of a real T class is probably as reflective as a Granny Smith (but more a Magenta colour). Such an object would be readily visible in the night sky.

Leonid Elenin himself has done a simulation on his website ( of what would happen to solar system orbits if a Brown Dwarf passed through. It would be quite obvious.

What if we replace comet C/2010 X1 (Elenin) by brown dwarf with mass about 0.05 of Solar mass? This video demonstrate time interval from 2000 to 2020 years. As you can see, dramatic changes in the orbit of Saturn would have started 3 years ago. But at this time all planets are on it’s nominal orbits. I think myth about “brown dwarf instead comet Elenin” is debunked. You can see that by yourself.

Numerical integration was carried out by ORSA software using RADAU15-th order integrator.

Summary: So, as you can see, it is impossible for Elenin to be a moon of a Brown Dwarf star (also we would have noticed its orbital motion by now) or a Brown Dwarf itself.

[1] Obligatory Douglas Adams homage, with added AC/DC.
[2] I haven’t got any yet, either I’ve got the time wrong and the comet has set, or the observatory is closed because of bad weather.
[3] Note that for the H calculation Do is in Km, but for the magnitude calculation, Do is in AU. The calculated magnitudes of Venus, Jupiter and Neptune agree with their observed magnitudes.

Comet Hysteria and the Millennium: A Commentary By Gary W. Kronk

June 8, 2011 2 comments

Whether you like it or not, there are a lot of gullible people in the world. It is truly amazing what people will believe. But, what’s worse, it is upsetting how many people are out there who try and take advantage of those people. Now I am not going to spend my time addressing all the lies people are falling for on an everyday basis, but I would like to address something that particularly bugs me. For nearly 30 years I have enjoyed observing comets. I have seen well over 110. My interest in this branch of astronomy is so great that I have also spent a lot of time reading about comets, doing my own research, and even talking to the experts in this field. The result is an increased enjoyment while observing, the publication of two books about comets, and I even give occasional talks on the subject. Although my books are basically reference works for other researchers, my own research has brought me into contact with a lot of interesting stories about how people in ancient and medieval times reacted toward comets. These stories are the kind of anecdotal material I like to intersperse throughout my talks when I need to lighten things up a bit. These include the following:

  • The comet of 79 was blamed for the eruption of Vesuvius that led to the destruction of the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
  • Halley’s Comet of 1066 was hanging in the sky for two months while the English and Normans were planning for an invasion. At the Battle of Hastings a few months later the Normans emerged as victors and from that time on the comet was said to have been a sign that favored William the Conqueror.
  • The comet of 1665 was said to have been responsible for the Black Plague that killed 90 thousand people in London.
  • The appearance of Halley’s Comet in 1835 was blamed for several things, including the fall of the Alamo, the destruction of 530 buildings in New York City because of a fire that raged for several days and nights, the massacre of over 280 people in Africa by ten thousand Zulu warriors, and wars that erupted in Cuba, Mexico, Equador, Central America, Peru, Argentina, and Bolivia.
  • These stories are basically examples of hindsight, or links that were made by modern people to explain things in the past. Sometimes the dates of historical events can not be perfectly matched to the appearance of a comet so a slightly different way is created to establish blame, such as the following:
  • The appearance of Halley’s Comet in 66 was said to have been “a warning” of the fall of Jerusalem in 70.
  • The appearance of Halley’s Comet in 1456 was said to have been “a heavenly comment” on the successful 1453 invasion of Constantinople by the Turks.

Once again these are examples of hindsight.

With the invention of newspapers, the telegraph, and the telephone came an increase in communication between people. Although doomsayers have always existed, this opened up a new avenue for them to pass their word to others. Perhaps the first major test of this came with the appearance of Halley’s Comet in 1910. A little bit of scientific information in the wrong hands can be dangerous. During the latter half of the 19th century astronomers had developed a tool that enabled them to analyze the light being reflected by comets. One of the first discoveries was that comets reflected sunlight, which makes a lot of sense to us nowadays since we know comets do not emit light, but this did surprise of lot of people. Interestingly, however, bright comets would actually reflect sunlight as it passed through their own dense clouds of dust and gas. This allowed astronomers to begin determining what comets were actually made of. One of the earliest discoveries was that comets contained cyanogen, a very poisonous gas. As Halley’s Comet approached the sun in 1910, astronomers announced that Earth would actually pass through the tail of this comet during May of that year. They assured everyone that our planet was safe and suggested the possibility of some spectacular sunsets. Meanwhile, the doomsayers latched onto a potential link: if comets contain a poisonous gas and if Earth is going to pass through the comet’s tail, then the people of Earth were in serious danger. Numerous newspapers actually published this story. Astronomers countered by saying the material in the tail was so spread out that there could be no ill affects, but few newspapers published this accurate information. Interestingly, a minor panic arose in some cities and entrepreneurs took advantage of it. They sold “comet pills” which were said to counter the effects of the poisonous gas. The pills sold like crazy. On May 20, after Earth had passed through the tail, everyone who had taken the pills was still alive…but, then, so was everyone else.

Interestingly, comet-caused panics basically vanished during most of the remainder of the 20th century. But during the last few years “end-of-the-world” predictions have become hot topics in supermarket tabloids, the WorldWideWeb, and on radio and television programs. The WorldWideWeb is probably the most to blame where anyone with a computer, with any degree of intelligence, could access the sites and take in as much information as they wish. Why all the interest in these predictions? The following are some of the contributing factors:

  • The end of the Millennium: although the world has passed through numerous 1000-year cycles before, some people are becoming worried about this one, mainly for religious reasons. There are numerous books written about the subject, articles in magazines, and lots of WWW sites which help fuel the fear. Interestingly, research into texts written during the 990s revealed millennium panics were present.
  • Prophecies: For some reason, things said by people who talk in their sleep have always been a source of fascination. This time around, it is the 16th-century prophet Nostradamus. His ambiguous statements have been linked to many historical events through hindsight. Various newly published interpretations indicate that he claims something big would happen around the time of the new millennium.
  • Astronomical Disaster: The 1980s sparked a revelation of sorts for astronomers as they discovered that something big had hit Earth 65 million years ago and wiped out the dinosaurs. An increased interest by astronomers, geologists, and biologists helped identify several other cataclismic events that caused a large loss of life on our planet. Asteroids or comets have been suggested for some of these events. As the 1990s began new programs were funded that enabled some observatories to start serious, devoted searches for objects that might threaten Earth in the future.
  • Hollywood: Improved computer power was being used to help improve the appearance of movies. This led to a series of movies on both television and the big screen that tried to depict what it would be like for Earth to be hit by a large asteroid or comet.
  • Conspiracy Theories: Ever since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, people have become more suspicious. Unfortunately, some have become more suspicious than others. This has led some people to doubt the validity of investigations into the assassinations of President Kennedy, his brother Robert in 1968, and Martin Luther King, also in 1968. There are people who doubt the United States Air Force’s report stating that UFOs were not extraterrestrial. And there are people who believe that the multiple missions to the moon were all faked.

Of course, none of the above would mean anything if it was not for the media. People go to newspapers, radio, and television for news, but the success of papers like the National Enquirer, radio programs like the Art Bell show, and television programs like the Jerry Springer show all indicate that sensationalism sells. Sensationalism has unforturnately taken hold on the WWW and it has been here that pseudoscience has joined up with the above factors to start annoying me.

The “Doomsday Comet” of 1996

Beginning in 1996 minor forms of comet hysteria reared their ugly head for the first time since 1910. With the discovery of comet Hyakutake and the realization that it would pass close to Earth, some supermarket tabloids reported the comet was actually going to hit Earth–totally ignoring the predictions of astronomers. The due date came and went without a hitch and there was no further discussion. Interestingly, one supermarket tabloid, the Weekly World News, published an article on 1996 February 13 that stated the Hubble Space Telescope had found a “doomsday comet.” The article said “the famed astronomer Dr. Robert Cremson” had found the comet while examining Hubble images. He said it was the size of Europe and would hit Earth on April 7. First of all, although comets have been photographed by Hubble, no comet has ever been discovered by Hubble. Second, no one by the name of “Robert Cremson” appears in any of the records indicating use of the Hubble Space Telescope. Nor does this name show up in internet searches with respect to astronomy. Interestingly, the Weekly World News refers to this person as “Dr. Crenshaw” around the middle of the same article. Just for the record no “Robert Crenshaw” shows up in Hubble records or in searches dealing with astronomy. Anyway, the two billion people that were expected to die in the impact are still alive and well.

The “Doomsday Comet” of 1997

Although the year 2000 was still three years away, comet Hale-Bopp caused a more significant form of comet hysteria in 1997. This comet was one of the largest comets ever seen and there were doomsayers who took this as something very significant. There were predictions that the comet would bring the end of the world on April 1, which was the date the comet would be closest to Earth. Although this mention of a “close approach” perked up the ears of the doomsayers, the reality of this was that the comet was over 120 million miles away–further from us than the sun. There was no chance that any particle of this comet was going to reach Earth. Subsequently, there was no end to the world–once again. Sadly, there is another aspect to Hale-Bopp’s appearance which contributed to the ritual suicide of 39 members of a religious cult called “Heaven’s Gate”, founded and led by Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles, on March 26, 1997. An amateur astronomer had taken a photo of the comet during November of 1996 that he claimed showed a UFO following the comet. The “UFO” was actually a star that was present on every photo ever taken of that region. Unfortunately, the mere mention of “UFO” got a lot of people excited and the amateur astronomer became a celibrity on radio and television programs that promoted such things. From this came more misidentified images of the comet and its “UFO”, with the “UFO” typically being a misidentified star or a photo defect. The religious cult believed the “UFO” was a spaceship which was coming to take their spirits away. Suicide was the only way to release their spirits in time. So, two bright comets, two predictions of doom for our world, and life still continued as normal. In some ways, the doomsayers of 1996 and 1997 were simply carrying out the same tradition as the people of ancient and medieval times. Bright comets capture the imagination. Although comet Hyakutake and Hale-Bopp both reached similar brightnesses, they did so for different reasons. Hyakutake became bright because it passed only ten million miles from Earth, the 33rd closest approach of any comet in history. Had it passed at a distance more typical of comets it would hardly have been noticed. Comet Hale-Bopp became bright because it was huge, certainly among the largest comets ever seen. It remained visible to the naked-eye for nearly a year and a half–nearly twice the previous record. If this comet had passed as close to Earth as comet Hyakutake did its brightness would have approached that of the full moon! Bright comets are generally a once-in-a-decade event and with two bright comets having passed, you would think comet hysteria would be an impossibility until after the millennium. But no. Nostradamus prophesied a comet would herald the mass desctruction around the time of the new millennium, so the doomsayers needed a comet. During May of 1998 they got another chance to frighten the gullible.

The “Doomsday Comet” of 1998

Comet SOHO (official designation C/1998 J1) was discovered on May 3, 1998 by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO). This “observatory” is a satellite that orbits the sun just a few million miles from Earth where it continually monitors the sun. On the date of the discovery the comet was barely within the image of a wide-field camera. During the next couple of days it steadily stayed near the northern edge of that camera’s field until it finally left. Rough orbits indicated the comet would probably be a bright object for observers in the Southern Hemisphere. It was finally spotted by observers on May 19 after it had sufficiently moved out of twilight. The comet was not as bright as Hyakutake and Hale-Bopp, but it was visible to the naked eye for a couple of weeks. This comet became interesting to the doomsayers through the use of conspiracy rumors. An internet group calling themselves “The Millennium Group” was the biggest of the conspiracy sites. Through a misunderstanding of cometary astronomy they actually claimed the comet was bigger than comet Hale-Bopp–a statement that was far from the truth. In reality the comet’s maximum brightness never reached the same level as Hale-Bopp and it was as bright as it was because it passed rather close to the sun. It was far below the maximum brightness of Hyakutake and Hale-Bopp by the time it had emerged from twilight. Another stir was caused by a misunderstanding of the discovery images. These images showed the comet near the top of the field, the sun in the center, and a “mysterious Saturn-shaped” object just to the left of the sun. One WWW site actually magnified the object and claimed it was a giant spaceship. In reality, the object was Mars, which was then on the far-side of its orbit on the other side of the sun. The “Saturn” shape was simply an artifact produced by SOHO’s electronic camera when it images a bright object. Comet SOHO came and went. Again, there was no disaster.

The “Doomsday Comet” of 1999

The year 1999 was a big year for the doomsayers. It was the last year before the beginning of the new millennium (if you are one of those who believed it began in 2000 and not 2001). Further reinterpretations of Nostradamus by various individuals indicated this was the year for mass destruction. No bright comets were predicted; however, as 30 or 40 comets are discovered each year, the “doomsday comet” had to be out there somewhere. Right? On the night of April 16, 1999, Steven Lee of Australia found a small comet. Calculations revealed the comet would pass closest to the sun on July 11, so that the comet would brighten. Its closest approach to Earth would occur in May at a distance of about 67 million miles–relatively typical for the brighter comets. Somewhat rare, however, was a second close approach on September 29, at the greater distance of about 77 million miles. Sadly, after having naked-eye comets in 1996, 1997, and 1998, comet Lee was too small and too far away for it to become a naked-eye object. However, a potential millennium disaster was at stake, as well as the prophecy of Nostradamus. Enter “The Millennium Group” once again! This time they published a rather wild scenario on their web site that indicated comet Lee could still hit Earth. They claimed that, while the comet was behind the sun during July, it was possible for a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) to hit the comet and divert pieces to a collision course with Earth. First of all, CME’s can not be predicted. Second, if a CME did occur, it is unlikely for it to reach comet Lee’s closest distance from the sun of 66 million miles with enough force to blow the comet to pieces. Third, comets have been observed to split in the past and the pieces generally stay close to the comet because of something simple called momentum. If a CME did hit the comet with a force great enough to split it, the pieces could not be diverted enough to hit Earth. At best they would drift a few thousand miles from the comet, not 77 million miles. Comet Lee was also the focus of Nostradamus scholars, who claimed the comet contained a “hidden cometary, asteroid, or meteor fragment in its tail.” They said Nostradamus indicated when the comet would hit Earth, but the various sites tended to disagree in their interpretation. Some tried to be smart about the whole thing by stating Nostradamus’ indication of the 7th month of the disaster was ambiguous because no one knew which calendar he was using. So, depending on this interpretation, some sites said July, some said September, and some admitted they were unsure and said July or September. Interestingly, a couple of sites apparently copied from the other sites and just blatantly said the comet would strike sometime between July and September. By the end of September there was no sign of a collision. Comet Lee was still exactly where it was supposed to be in the sky and it was then moving away from both the sun and Earth. Interestingly, the Associated Press distributed an article with a dateline of August 18 that said a 47-year-old man who worked on space shuttle data processing was found in a cave in southeastern Ohio on August 10. Also located within the cave was camping equipment and food. The man told authorities that a meteor was going to hit in the Atlantic Ocean causing a 200 foot tidal wave that would wipe out the east coast. The man was kept in jail overnight and was then sent on his way.

Another Threat in 1999

But the millennium was not over and neither was the task of the doomsayers. Richard Hoagland and Art Bell, each of whom makes a living by keeping the rumors of UFOs and conspiracies alive, both claimed film footage of the August 11 solar eclipse over Europe showed two unknown objects near the sun. Their “analysis” of these objects indicated they were quite close to the orbit of the Taurid meteor stream. So close, in fact, that Hoagland suggested they were probably part of the stream and of a size that could be disasterous for our planet. There was one major problem with their scenario. Although some objects do become visible during total solar eclipses (stars and planets, for instance), it still takes a fairly bright object to be seen at this time. In addition, an object sitting in the Taurid meteor stream at the position indicated on that date would have been located about 120 million miles from Earth. So, if Hoagland and Bell were reporting that objects dangerous to our planet were seen during the August 11 eclipse, how did these objects avoid detection in the past as they moved through the night sky? There is definitely one large object that is moving in the Taurid stream orbit and that is the periodic comet Encke, which is believed to be the parent of the Taurids. Discovered back in 1786, this comet circles the sun once every 3.3 years. It has on several occasions become visible to the naked eye, but never at a distance of 120 million miles from our planet. So, the Hoagland/Bell objects must be larger and brighter than Encke! If these objects were in the Taurid orbit they would move through the inner solar system in a fashion quite similar to that of comet Encke; therefore, they would have the potential of becoming incredibly bright and would have easily been detected in the past. Interestingly, of the thousands of images and video footage shot during the eclipse, nothing else showed anything unusual. Thus, it seems probable that these “doomsday” objects were probably just specks of dust on someone’s lens.

Doomsday Comet of 2000

So, with the new millennium beginning on January 1, 2000, would the appearance of a comet in 2000 be fair game for the doomsayers? After 1999 passed without a hitch, you would think many of these people would be out of a job. Some of the doomsayers have made a good living taking advantage of others and this whole millennium thing worked out quite well for them. They were published in magazines, appeared on talk shows, and even written books. But, these doomsayers tend to be pretty bright people and it did not take long for them to realize what scientists have been trying to tell everyone for several years–the new millennium would not begin until January 1, 2001. Why? Well, there was no year zero and since each millennium has a duration of 1000 years, then the first millennium ran from the year 1 through the year 1000, and the second millennium logically runs from 1001 through 2000. The third millennium would not begin until 2001. Therefore, the doomsayers had another year to frighten people! So would the tabloids, radio programs, and internet sites that breed the conspiracy theories and doomsday predictions have a comet to scare people with in the year 2000? Well, as 2000 began there was the potential for two barely naked-eye comets during the last half of the year. But the doomsayers, were getting smart. Afterall, once these comets were gone, the potential fear would subside. What they came up with was a wild theory. The small, relatively obscure comet West-Kohoutek-Ikemura, which makes one revolution around the sun every 6.4 years, was going to pass close to Mars sometime during late May or early June of 2000. Their “computations” indicated the close approach would be on the order of only 40,000 miles, which they said was close enough for the comet to either be pulled into Mars, resulting in a catastrophic blast of “millions of tons of material” from Mars, or to yank one or both moons of Mars out of orbit. They continued by noting that either the material or the moons would be put on a collision course with Earth. In a day when astronomers can pinpoint the return of a well-known periodic comet to within a few minutes or hours, how could a group of “scientists” making up The Millennium Group not be able to pinpoint a potential collision of a comet with a planet? How did well-known astronomers predict the close approach of the comet with Mars?

  • Kenji Muraoka (Japan) indicated the closest approach occurred on June 5, with the minimum distance of 0.04215 AU, which is equal to 3,914,000 miles or 6,303,000 kilometers.
  • Kazuo Kinoshita (Japan) indicated the close approach would occur on June 5, with the minimum distance of 0.0425 AU, which is equal to 3,946,890 miles or 6,355,700 kilometers.
  • Patrick Rocher (France) indicated the smallest distance between the comet and Mars will occur on June 5, with the minimum distance of 0.04251 AU, which is equal to 3,948,000 miles or 6,357,000 kilometers.

Thus, three well-known astronomers respected for the accuracy of their orbital computations had already provided similar orbits indicating a close approach slightly greater than 3.9 million miles (6.3 million kilometers). Although this comet had been bright enough for large amateur telescopes to see in the past, the return in 2000 was not observable as the comet was pretty much on the other side of the sun from Earth when at its brightest. By the time the comet was far enough from the sun to be in range of large telescopes it was too faint to be detected. Therefore, this was a clever idea on the part of The Millennium Group as the fear just kept going. Of course no pieces ever hit Earth. It is sad that people seem to have short memories and were believing this internet group once again. There was no chance of a collision. There was no chance of pieces of Mars hitting us. Just a close approach of a comet and Mars.

Will there be a Doomsday Comet in the future?

As you can see from the examples above, the doomsayers have been spreading fear about comets for years. Since 2000 up till now they have labelled many other comets as doomsday events. Comet Holmes, McNaught, Tempel 1 are more examples. The latest one is comet Elenin. Comet Elenin (also known by its astronomical name C/2010 X1), was first detected on Dec. 10, 2010 by Leonid Elenin, an observer in Lyubertsy, Russia, who made the discovery “remotely” using the ISON-NM observatory near Mayhill, New Mexico. At the time of the discovery, the comet was about 647 million kilometers (401 million miles) from Earth. Over the past four-and-a-half months, the comet has – as comets do – closed the distance to Earth’s vicinity as it makes its way closer to perihelion (its closest point to the sun). Comet Elenin should be at its brightest shortly before the time of its closest approach to Earth on Oct. 16 of this year. At its closest point, it will be 35 million kilometers (22 million miles) from us. What’s funny, but not funny to me, is it’s the same people talking the same tripe about past comets and they’re doing the same once again with comet Elenin. Marshall Masters of has hopped on the Elenin bandwagon with all his pseudoscience weight and remember, Marshall Masters was a member and front runner of…yep, you guessed it! The Millennium Group! No science, no facts, just more of the same doomsday fear they’ve spewed out over other comets for over 10 years. What’s sad is people still buy into and believe their sheer and utter nonsence when time and time again they are proven wrong.


During the last few centuries astronomers have managed to lift the cloak of mystery surrounding comets. We now know what they are, how they move, and where they come from. Although there is evidence that a comet hits Earth every few million years or so, there is a growing number of scientists that also believe comets played a major role in the early development of life on our planet. It would seem that the numerous early collisions of comets with a very young Earth probably provided most of the water now present on our planet–water, of course, being perhaps the single most important ingredient for sustaining life. Comets are just another of nature’s spectacles. Like the beauty of a sunset or a rainbow. All are unexpected, but none should be feared. Our world and our universe are filled with numerous mysteries just waiting to be solved. Fear will not enable us to learn about them, but calmly observing and studying them will.

Asteroid Toutatis will not impact the Earth on December 12, 2012

March 6, 2011 Leave a comment

4179 Toutatis was first sighted on February 10, 1934, as object 1934 CT, and then promptly lost. It remained a lost asteroid for several decades until it was recovered on January 4, 1989, by Christian Pollas, and was named after the Celtic god Toutatis/Teutates. Toutatis is an Apollo, Alinda, and Mars-crosser asteroid with a chaotic orbit produced by a 3:1 resonance with the planet Jupiter and 1:4 resonance with the planet Earth. Due to its very low orbital inclination (0.47°) and its orbital period of very nearly 4 years, Toutatis makes frequent close approaches to Earth, with a currently minimum possible distance (Earth MOID) of just 0.006 AU (2.3 times as far as the Moon).

The approach on September 29, 2004, was particularly close, at 0.0104 AU (within 4 lunar distances) from Earth, presenting a good opportunity for observation, with Toutatis shining at magnitude 8.9 when brightest. The most recent close approach of 0.0502 AU happened on November 9, 2008. The next close approach will be December 12, 2012, at a distance of around 0.04633 AU, and at magnitude 10.

Radar imagery has shown that Toutatis is a highly irregular body consisting of two distinct “lobes”, with maximum widths of about 4.6 km and 2.4 km respectively. It is hypothesized that Toutatis formed from two originally separate bodies which coalesced at some point, with the resultant asteroid being compared to a “rubble pile”.

The close pass in September 2004 was close enough to raise concerns that Toutatis would eventually collide with Earth. The likelihood of collision is considered to be small. As a planet-crossing asteroid, Toutatis is likely to be ejected from the Solar System on a time scale of a few tens of thousands of years, giving it a limited number of opportunities to strike Earth before disappearing forever.

So back to the information at hand… you might be asking yourself what is an AU? 1 A.U. is the average distance between the center of mass of the Earth and the center of mass of the Sun which comes out to be approximately 149,598,000 km (92,955,887.6 miles). Now we can use simple dimensional analysis to actually see how far Toutatis will be from the Earth on December 12, 2012.

0.04633 AU x 92,955,887.6 mi = 6,931,000 km (4,307,000 miles) from Earth.
………………………….1 AU

So the asteroid will be 4.3 x 10^6 mi away from the Earth… is that close? Lets put that in to perspective by comparing it to the Earth-Moon average distance. The Earth-Moon distance is 384,403 km (238,857 miles) apart, meaning that Toutatis will be 18 times the distance of the Earth to the Moon. In our opinion, that’s not close enough to classify it as a Doomsday possibility… its even stretching it to call it a “close encounter”. So, with the information at hand we can safely say that the chances of Toutatis impacting the Earth on December 12, 2012 is 0%.

4179 Toutatis at its closest on December 12, 2012

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