NASA in August took the unusual step of publicly debunking the online asteroid apocalypse rumors that had circulated throughout 2015, assuring the public that there existed “not one shred of evidence” that a major asteroid strike would occur in September of this year, as internet conspiracy theories claimed.
One version of the asteroid apocalypse rumor held that the massive impact — capable of disrupting or even wiping out all life in Earth — would take place on September 15. That date has now come and gone.
But other versions of the story — many of which also alleged a NASA cover-up of the imminent doomsday strike — gave September 24 or September 28 as possible dates for the world-ending asteroid impact.
“If there were any object large enough to do that type of destruction in September, we would have seen something of it by now,” said Paul Chodas, manager of the NASA Near-Earth Object Office, back in August, as the space agency attempted to calm fears of the allegedly impeding asteroid strike.
But not so fast, says a British astronomy expert — Professor Robert Walsh of the University of Central Lancashire in England. There’s still a chance of a huge asteroid disaster, and humanity would be ill-advised, Walsh says, to treat the threat lightly.
“What you may not realize is that Earth is hit with about a hundred tons of extraterrestrial material every day,” Walsh told Britain’s Daily Mirror newspaper on Wednesday. “Earth has experienced very destructive impacts in the past. Just ask any dinosaur.”
Walsh cited a 2013 asteroid strike over Siberia, in which a hurtling rock from outer space blew up in the atmosphere.
“The force of the resulting blast smashed windows, injuring hundreds of people,” Walsh recounted. “However, the result could be much more devastating if this sort of event was repeated above a major center of population like London, New York or Beijing.”
Walsh ultimately offered some reassuring words, however. Asked if it were possible for NASA — which actually does keep track of what it labels “Potentially Hazardous Asteroids” — to simply miss an asteroid of the size that would cause the type of damage envisioned in the alarmingly popular online apocalypse scenarios.
“In short, no,” Walsh replied. “The international astronomy community is taking seriously the slim threat of a devastating collision with asteroid.
He added that the NASA Near Earth Object Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, watches and records any asteroids or other celestial objects that appear to pose even the slightest danger to Earth, meaning that even if an asteroid apocalypse were coming, the planet would at least receive fair warning.
[Image: Paramount Pictures Deep Impact Publicity Still]