How we should deal with asteroid threats in real life


Don’t look now – but we are currently experiencing a rash of stories about a forthcoming global catastrophe. But in a change from reports of pandemics and climate change, this global catastrophe is produced by the impact of a giant asteroid. Or comet. Or both. This may feel extra ominous given the events in the recent Netflix film “Don’t Look Up”, in which the Earth is threatened by a “planet killer” asteroid.

But how worried should we really be – and what would happen if such a body actually hit us?

It has been my experience that killer asteroids tend to strike in the summer months when news is thin on the ground. Maybe we are so tired of grim news about the spread of the omicron COVID variant and associated problems that a killer asteroid (or comet) makes a refreshing change.

Some UK newspapers have turned to Nostradamus, the 16th century astrologer. A couple ran stories at the end of 2021 about 2022 being the year in which Nostradamus predicted that the world would end in a giant impact with a body from space. This hook has resulted in tabulations of objects that may (or, more likely, will not) come close to the Earth in 2022.

My favorite list was published by the Sun newspaper, which described five asteroids heading towards the Earth in January alone.

The scary headline and its accompanying image of an Earth in apparent danger is somewhat undermined by the sentences following the image, in which the newspaper states that “all of the forecasted asteroids this year will pass by Earth by a significant distance and is very unlikely they will hit our planet”. We have already missed (or been missed by) the first two asteroids in this list (2021 YQ and 2021 YX) which hurtled by Earth on January 5 at distances of 1.3 and 2.4 million miles, respectively.