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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Rock of Ages

Here we go again.

The asteroid 9994 Apophis is again in the news, because it, (wait for it!) still isn't going to hit the earth in 2029 or 2036.

1. Yes, there is a 100% probability that a massive asteroid or comet will collide with earth at some point in the future and cause the extinction of most life on earth. Again. And again. And again.

2. Yes, 9994 Apophis might, one day, far in the future, be one of the bodies which does so. And there will be others.

3. There are MANY asteroids which have a much higher chance of having a catastrophic collision with earth than 9994 Apophis. Probably the "best" candidate right now is  2011 AG5, but there are many others. Unfortunately, 2011 AG5 doesn't have a cool name like "Apophis", so the media doesn't really care.

4. There WILL be more data forthcoming on 9994 Apophis this year and in 2016 which will amplify our understanding of its trajectory, so it will certainly be in the news cycle yet again, but it is unlikely that this will reveal any significantly greater risk. As it stands right now, you are in much graver danger of winning the Washington State Lottery than you are of living to see 9994 Apophis collide with earth. If you happen to believe that you have a chance of winning the lottery, I would recommend that you send the money you would spend on lottery tickets to Strait of Magellan instead. There's at least some chance that I might feel guilty and send it back to you.


5. If you're really excited about possible near-term Extinction Events that might actually wipe out all life on earth, your odds are much greater with global warming than with asteroids. Good enough, in fact, that with those odds I myself might buy a lottery ticket. Of course, I might not be around to spend my winnings.

Here's the real data on 9994 Apophis.

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