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.
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.
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%.
“. . .he’s just another nut making a living selling books that treat folks to a tale they want to believe in.”
“…the Sumerian Epic of Creation is not an allegorical myth but a sophisticated cosmogony scientifically describing how our solar system came to be….” Zecharia Sitchin
Zecharia Sitchin, along with Erich von Däniken and Immanuel Velikovsky, make up the holy trinity of pseudohistorians. Each begins with the assumption that ancient myths are not myths but historical and scientific texts. Sitchin’s claim to fame is announcing that he alone correctly reads ancient Sumerian clay tablets. [Of course, he didn’t announce this by taking out an ad in the New York Times but by implying it with his “translations” that do not jibe with the work of legitimate scholars in the field.] If Sitchin is right, then all other scholars have misread these tablets, which, according to Sitchin, reveal that gods from another planet (Nibiru or Niburu, which orbits our Sun every 3,600 years) arrived on Earth some 450,000 years ago and created humans by genetic engineering of female apes. Niburu orbits beyond Pluto and is heated from within by radioactive decay, according to Sitchin. No other scientist has discovered that these descendants of gods blew themselves up with nuclear weapons some 4,000 years ago (The War of Gods and Men, p. 310).* Sitchin alone can look at a Sumerian tablet and see that it depicts a man being subjected to radiation. He alone knows how to correctly translate ancient terms allowing him to discover such things as that the ancients made rockets (ibid., p. 46).* Yet, he doesn’t seem to know that the seasons are caused by the earth’s tilt, not by its distance from the sun.
Sitchin was born in Russia, was raised in Palestine, and graduated from the University of London with a degree in economic history. He worked for years as a journalist and editor in Israel before settling in New York.
Sitchin, like Velikovsky, presents himself as erudite and scholarly in a number of books, including The Twelfth Planet (1976) and The Cosmic Code (1998). Both Sitchin and Velikovsky write very knowledgeably of ancient myths and both are nearly scientifically illiterate. Like von Däniken and Velikovsky, Sitchin weaves a compelling and entertaining story out of facts, misrepresentations, fictions, speculations, misquotes, and mistranslations. Each begins with their beliefs about ancient visitors from other worlds and then proceeds to fit facts and fictions to their basic hypotheses. Each is a master at ignoring inconvenient facts, making mysteries where there were none before, and offering their alien hypotheses to solve the mysteries. Their works are very attractive to those who love a good mystery and are ignorant of the nature and limits of scientific knowledge. They are especially attractive to those who are ignorant of biblical and historical scholarship.
Sitchin promotes himself as a Biblical scholar and master of ancient languages, but his real mastery was in making up his own translations of Biblical texts to support his readings of Sumerian and Akkadian writings.
He’s let us know he’s going to twist the translations around to support his thesis. Indeed, a reader of Sitchin’s book would do well to keep a couple of Bibles handy to check up on the verses Sitchin quotes. Many of them will sound odd or unrecognizable because they have been translated from their familiar form (this is made harder by the fact that Sitchin rarely tells you just which verse he is quoting). This would be much more acceptable if he wasn’t using the twisted translations to support the thesis that led to the twisted translations (Hafernik).
Most of Sitchin’s sources are obsolete. He has received nothing but ridicule from scientific archaeologists and scholars familiar with ancient languages. His most charming quality seems to be his vivid imagination and complete disregard for established facts and methods of inquiry, traits that are apparently very attractive to some people.
Sitchin’s ideas have been appropriated by Raël, another wise man, who has started his own religion (Raëlian Religion) around the idea that humans are the result of a DNA experiment by ancient visitors from outer space. Raël has even written a channeled book, dictated to him by extraterrestrials. It is called The Final Message. We can only hope it is.
Link to original post: Zecharia Sitchin and The Earth Chronicles