Some people hate pineapple on pizza. Some hate people that talk too loudly on phones in public. Others really hate the ending of Lost and are still angry to this day that the last three seasons were a total waste of time.
Do you know what I hate more than anything, though? I absolutely, 100 percent hate goddamn stories about asteroids that might hit Earth. I hate them with such a fiery passion that I’d be willing to eat nothing but pineapple for the rest of my life if I never had to debunk one again.
Well, bad news for me. Multiple outlets are reporting on NASA “warning” about 2018 LF16, an asteroid 213 meters (around 700 feet) across that’s probably not going to hit Earth. But let’s ramp up that sensationalism, anyway.
According to NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), the asteroid will make 62 relatively close passes to Earth between 2023 and 2117, with the closest coming on August 8, 2023. (Note, the JPL small object database suggests it won’t be anywhere near on that date, but I’m not sure which is right.)
That might sound scary but fear not. The asteroid has a one in 370 million chance of hitting Earth on that day, which is so unlikely that you can continue living your life however you please with no fear of this object bringing your humble abode to its end.
If I’m reading the table right, they’re suggesting the asteroid will pass within three times Earth’s radius, or about 22,000 kilometers (14,000 miles). That is admittedly quite close but, well, it’s not close enough for us to start abandoning the planet.
The asteroid is on an orbit around the Sun that takes about 533 Earth days. It comes as close as 0.4 times the Earth-Sun distance to the Sun (0.4 astronomical units, or AU) and flies to about 2.7 AU, which is beyond the orbit of Mars.
Asteroids of this size and others do pose a threat to Earth, and we need to get better at tracking them; it’s estimated that a quarter of asteroids that could hit us are still undiscovered. The annual Asteroid Day tries to raise awareness of this issue.
But 2018 LF16 is nothing to lose sleep over. It’s a sizable asteroid that is orbiting the Sun, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Earth’s probably going to be fine. Or not. What do I know, I like pineapple on pizza.