Despite the Headlines, 'Election-Day Asteroid' Poses No Threat

There are much better options for Doomsday lovers than an asteroid.

An illustration of an asteroid passing close to Earth
Close, but no cigar.

Mark Garlick/Science Library/Getty Images

We interrupt this United States presidential election to bring you ... the Apocalypse.

Still with us? Good. Because we were indulging in a little good old-fashioned fear-mongering. Forgive us. But the thing is when it comes to the next asteroid brushing past the Earth, everyone else is doing it. But at least we put it right up there in the headline that no one’s going to get hurt. 

Still, even Snopes had to weigh in on those reports that a so-called ‘election-day asteroid’ is poised to wipe us out on the day before America ushers in a new president (or gives the old one another kick at the can).

Sure, this tiny tourist’s real name, 2018VP1, won’t make a headline jump — or you, for that matter. And, as that rather non-panic-inducing name suggests, it’s been on scientists’ radar since 2018. At the time, 2018VP1 was about 280,000 miles from Earth, doing what space rocks and planets do — making a pilgrimage around the sun. It’s now on its way back from whence it came, but not before skimming by the Earth again — this time at a range of about 3,100 miles.

That’s close. In fact, it’s about twice the distance between Paris and Moscow. In space terms, a hop, skip, and a kaboom.

NASA wasted no time in allaying those fears, tweeting from its Asteroid watch account, “Asteroid 2018VP1 is very small, approx. 6.5 feet, and poses no threat to Earth! It currently has a 0.41% chance of entering our planet's atmosphere, but if it did, it would disintegrate due to its extremely small size.”

So, even if 2018VP1 decided that it should change course and whack the Earth – it being 2020 and all – it wouldn’t even make a dent. The space agency classifies a diameter of 460 feet as being dent-worthy; at around 7 feet, 2018VP1 falls well short of tripping any alarm bells. 

But NASA does try to keep an eye on errant asteroids. The big ones, like a 6-mile wide specimen that smashed into the Earth about 66 million years ago, can certainly do some damage. Just ask the dinosaurs. Smaller asteroids can still do major damage.

That’s why NASA is funding a new space-based telescope called the NEO Surveillance Mission. It's designed to give us proper warning of our imminent destruction, and maybe even a chance to ask Bruce Willis if he's available to save us. 

By next year, we may not even need his services. That’s when NASA launches the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), a mission that will slam a spacecraft into the smaller of two asteroids orbiting each other. The test will determine whether we might be able to offset an incoming object’s trajectory, without having to send humans on a suicide mission while Aerosmith plays in the background.

All the same, as NASA noted last year, the agency knows of “no asteroid or comet currently on a collision course with Earth. So the probability of a major collision is quite small. In fact, as best as we can tell, no large object is likely to strike the Earth any time in the next several hundred years.”
So you can probably go ahead and look elsewhere for your Doomsday fix. There are plenty of candidates here on the ground: Like the plague we’re currently in or those ever-melting glaciers or that old standby for when doomsayers are really bored, volcanoes.  

Regardless, you should probably tell your mom you love her anyway.