Earlier this week, NASA said an asteroid was projected to head toward Earth, potentially entering the atmosphere on November 2, a day before the US presidential election.
What immediately followed were shock headlines and social media posts sensationalising the announcement to suggest the asteroid could hit Earth.
And because 2020 has already served up devastating bushfires and a global pandemic, many punters online scoffed that an asteroid might not be the worst thing to happen this year.
NASA then had to make it crystal clear Asteroid 2018VP1 was unlikely to hit earth, but that hasn’t stopped people wondering.
Can we get a reality check?
OK let’s be clear: NASA scientists say the asteroid poses no threat to Earth.
While the small asteroid is on a path that would bring it close to Earth shortly before the US election, it has a very slim chance of actually making it through Earth’s atmosphere.
What chance does the asteroid have of hitting Earth?
Asteroid Watch — a NASA branch that detects, tracks and characterises near-earth objects — said Asteroid 2018VP1 has a 0.41 per cent (or one in 240) chance, of entering Earth’s atmosphere.
Even if it did enter the atmosphere it would disintegrate because of its small size.
It’s about two metres wide.
“One thing the news media is misunderstanding is the extremely small size of the asteroid,” Paul Chodas, director of the Center for Near Earth Object Studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement.
Is this asteroid special in any way?
Bill Bottke, director of the department of space studies at the Southwest Research Institute, said asteroids this small hit the Earth several times per year.
According to NASA, there are currently 992,210 known asteroids — rocky remnants left over from the early formation of our solar system about 4.6 billion years ago.
The reason why Asteroid 2018VP1 was even noted was because NASA keeps a record of asteroids and tracks them as part of its planetary defence efforts.
Those efforts help assess the impact damage that an asteroids could inflict on Earth.