Rotating Question Curious About Astronomy? Ask an Astronomer

Are there any asteroids on a collision course with Earth?

Hey, I was just reading on compuserve news this morning that a British astronomer discovered some type of asteriod that is 1.3 miles in length headed for earth. He said it would reach us in 17 years and it could destroy all life, or turn some of us to the dark ages. Is this true? If so is there a way to stop this ? Please give me any HONEST information you have, because the media can say otherwise all the time.

Based on the data we currently have, the odds of the asteroid known as 2002 NT7 hitting in 2019 are about 1 in 100,000, which is considered a very low risk. However, because it is such a large object, astronomers believe that it should be closely monitored. As we obtain more data, we will be able to state with more confidence whether or not the asteroid will hit the Earth.

This asteroid is at the bottom end of the range that could actually cause a global disaster. In addition to causing tremendous damage wherever it hits, the asteroid strike would throw a great deal of dust into the atmosphere, which could block the light of the Sun, possibly for several years. We call this 'impact winter', similar to the 'nuclear winter' which would follow a large nuclear war. The lack of sunlight would kill most of the plant life on Earth. For humans, this would mean famines,and possibly even extinction.

Because we have 10 years of warning, we might be able to use nuclear bombs to give the asteroid a slight nudge at just the right part of its orbit, causing it to miss us, but this would be difficult for an asteroid 2 kilometers across.

It's wise to be skeptical of what the media tell us, because they like to play up the risks to make a better story. However, if astronomers find an asteroid that has a high risk of hitting the Earth, I don't think it would be easy to cover it up. Astronomers are very conscious of our obligation to share their information with the public, and we try very hard to give accurate and helpful information to the press. With email and the internet, astronomers share information about impact hazards all the time. It would be very hard to keep the information from getting out!

I notice there hasn't been much publicity on the updates of research on 2002 NT7 Asteroid's near-collision course with the Earth in Feb. 2019. Please indicate the the most current updates as to whether Earth collision has been ruled out or still a concern of possibility.

The asteroid 2002 NT7 is no longer considered a threat to Earth. Initial models showed that there was a very small possibility that it could impact Earth in Feb. 2019, and this attracted a lot of media attention. However, two days after the media released the story, additional observations showed that there was no chance that the asteroid would hit Earth in 2019. As far as we know from the data and models that we have now, 2002 NT7 will not ever impact Earth.

I'm not sure why there's always much less press when it's discovered that an asteroid won't impact Earth, especially when it's been covered so dramatically in major media sources. Probably it's just less interesting to hear that there is no longer a threat than it is to announce a possible impact in the first place. For more information about this asteroid and about media reporting of asteroids, you can look at the impact hazards page.

If you go to that page, search the news archive for the year 2003, and go to the September 3, 2003 article you'll find some information about 2002 NT7 at the bottom. The article talks generally about asteroids that were covered by the media and tries to analyze why they garnered so much attention.

Are there any other asteroids on a collision course with Earth?

Information on asteroids which pose a potential impact threat is updated almost daily at the Impact Hazard Page so please look there for the answer to your question. As mentioned above, for some reason the media like to report extensively on asteroids which are predicted to have a chance of impacting the Earth, but seem less interested in updating the news when further observations show that the threat from a particular asteroid is removed. When an asteroid is found to have an orbit which might cause it to impact the Earth, naturally many more observations are made to try to better constrain the orbit, and these observations often prove that the asteroid will in fact not impact the Earth.

April 2004, Karen Masters (more by Karen Masters) (Like this Answer), Lynn Carter (more by Lynn Carter) (Like this Answer), Britt Scharringhausen (more by Britt Scharringhausen) (Like this Answer)

Still Curious?

Get More 'Curious?' with Our New PODCAST:

Related questions:

More questions about Comets, Meteors and Asteroids: Previous | Next

More questions about The Earth: Previous | Next

How to ask a question:

If you have a follow-up question concerning the above subject, submit it here. If you have a question about another area of astronomy, find the topic you're interested in from the archive on our site menu, or go here for help.

Table 'curious.Referrers' doesn't existTable 'curious.Referrers' doesn't exist

This page has been accessed 53477 times since July 24, 2002.
Last modified: January 17, 2006 1:28:41 PM

Legal questions? See our copyright, disclaimer and privacy policy.
Ask an Astronomer is hosted by the Astronomy Department at Cornell University and is produced with PHP and MySQL.

Warning: Your browser is misbehaving! This page might look ugly. (Details)