Sometimes I wonder what the journalists at the Daily Mail are smoking. Many a time I can see that they write their stories to be populist and written to bring out the base instincts and emotions of their readers. I see no problem with that, they are a commercial company and they do need to make money to pay their staff wages, though that shouldn’t stop everyone laying into them for not educating their readers properly and allowing politicians to govern the country with impunity.
But a few stories are just so wrong that you can’t explain the stupidity of it as being due to making money. This story, a science one so should be easy to use facts, just makes so many mistakes even a 10 year old could have written a better story.
The title is the first thing wrong with this story.
“Cigar-shaped asteroid stronger than ’15 atomic bombs’ whizzes by earth”
How can an asteroid be “stronger” than a bomb. It might have more kinetic energy than 15 nuclear bombs – if it hit the atmosphere and crashed into the earth. At least the journalist, who by the way hides behind the tag of “Daily Mail Reporter”, got the asteroid bit right.
An asteroid as strong as 15 atomic bombs whizzed past earth last night at just ten times the distance of the moon.
The moon’s distance from earth is about 240,000 miles. Ten times that distance is 2.4m miles. We’ll come back to this point a bit later on.
Astronomers first spotted the cigar-shaped rock spinning through space on Monday evening and tracked it.
The star-gazers were baffled by why the asteroid ‘blinked’ at them until they realised that due to is long shape, the darkness came when it rotated slightly out of view.
Thankfully, the 50m long rock that could have destroyed a small country went barely noticed as it passed earth at a distance of some 2,085,321 miles.
So about 50m in size. That’s about the size of the Tunguska event. The energy estimated to have been released in that event which flattened (literaly) hundreds of square miles of Siberian forest has been calculated to be equivalent to a 30 megaton nuclear bomb, or 1000 times The Atomic Bomb (Hiroshima), or a single Amercian bomb or a 1/3 the size of the largest nuclear bomb ever. So 15 times the size of which bomb?
‘Usually, when we see an asteroid strobe on and off like that, it means that the body is elongated and we are viewing it broadside along its long axis first, and then on its narrow end as it rotates,’ Don Yeomans from Nasa told news.com.au.
‘GP59 is approximately 50m long, and we think its period of rotation is about seven-and-a-half minutes. This makes the object’s brightness change every four minutes or so.’
A quote so the reporter couldn’t make a mistake there. You hope, though that hasn’t stopped the Daily Mail in the past.
Nick James, from Chelmsford, Essex, recorded the newly discovered ‘Asteroid 2011 GP59′ on Monday night showing the object hurtling across the screen and blinking on and off.
Hurtling! Wow. That usually means in an uncontrolled manner. I thought asteroids were pretty controlled in their movements through space. They follow the laws of phsyics.
The asteroid, which was recorded with an 11-inch telescope, was around 2,085,321-miles away from Earth – ten times the distance of the moon which is 238,857 miles away.
Something factually correct for once.
It was picked up by astronomers at the Observatorio Astronomico de Mallorca in Andalusia, Spain, who’ve since determined that it’s heading towards us.
So is it heading towards us to crash into earth? Nope, it missed us by millions of miles. Therefore it wasn’t heading towards us, it was passing us by.
Last night, the cosmic rock passed earth at a distance of more than two million miles.
Ok, so you’ve just said the two million miles bit three times already. I think we get the point. In fact I think it’s repeated this many times because in early drafts they got the distance wrong by a factor of ten.
But space experts said there was no need to be concerned as direct hit on earth would be highly unlikely.
‘There is no possibility of the small space rock entering Earth’s atmosphere during this pass or for the foreseeable future,’ Yeoman added.
So we know it passed the earth, that means it’s extremely unlikely to hit the earth. Unless the asteroid has some kind of rocket engine to make it change direction in space and head back to earth that is.
He said that the orbit of the ‘Asteroid 2011 GP59′ could be accurately plotted.
Astronomers have so far recorded around 3,000 asteroids.
The most recent asteroid is five times bigger than one that exploded over Indonesia in October 2009.
According to the New Scientist magazine, the Indonesian asteroid was as powerful as three atomic bombs, roughly making the new Asteroid 2011 GP59 the same strength as 15 bombs.
And when we do some simple searching of the authoritative sites we find that the 2m miles was only when it was first spotted. The Daily Mail missed out on the even more sensational news that the asteroid got closer, much closer to the earth. Within 330,000 miles. That’s just out side the orbit of the moon. According the Daily Mail level of writing that would be an impact with the moon!