Asteroid threat in 2032? Don’t panic, but don’t brush it off

A big asteroid sailed past Earth last month, and astronomers haven’t yet totally excluded the possibility that it’ll hit us when it comes around in 2032. If the past is any guide, we won’t have to worry about asteroid 2013 TV135 — but it’s a reminder that we’ll have to fend off a killer space rock one of these days.

Ukrainian astronomers discovered 2013 TV135 just 10 days ago, well after the asteroid had its close encounter with Earth on Sept. 16. Actually, it wasn’t all that close: The distance was 4.2 million miles (6.7 million kilometers), or about 17 times as far away as the moon. But based on the rough estimates of its orbital path, experts rated its chances of colliding with Earth during a follow-up encounter in 2032 at 1 in 63,000.

“To put it another way, that puts the current probability of no impact in 2032 at about 99.998 percent,” Don Yeomans, manager of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said Thursday in a statement. “This is a relatively new discovery. With more observations, I fully expect we will be able to significantly reduce, or rule out entirely, any impact probability for the foreseeable future.”

Russia sounds alarm
Earth has faced tougher odds: At one point, astronomers gave the asteroid Apophis a 1-in-40 chance of hitting Earth in 2029. Further observations ruled out any chance of impact in the foreseeable future, and the case of 2013 TV135 will almost certainly play out the same way.

That didn’t stop Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who has space research as part of his portfolio, from tweeting an alarm. “‘A 400-meter asteroid threatens to blow up the Earth,'” he wrote in Russian. “Well, that’s a super goal for domestic space.”

Just last month, Energy Secretary Ernst Moniz signed an agreement with Russian officials that the Energy Department said would include seeing whether nuclear weapons could be used as a means of asteroid defense.

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