You may have heard that something really big and made of rock and metal is going to fly really close to earth in just a few days. I learned this from this Huffington Post article, whose lead-in was the following Tweet:
Jesus H. Jones, that sounds terrifying, right? And then you learn that it's going to be closer than the moon and you feel the onset of pants-wetting catastrophe—mass extinctions! Global winter! The possibility of another terrible action movie starring Ben Affleck!
What steps are being taken? You wonder.
Scientists are prepared: they're totally going to give this behemoth the side-eye.
No, really—we plan on looking at it:
So astronomers are taking the rare opportunity to study a hefty asteroid without having to send a craft into deep space.
Good for them. So convenient, having massive pieces of rock just come right up to us like friendly and destructive puppies so you can train your telescopes on them.
And then you learn this exact kind of thing happened in 1976, and will happen again in less than ten years. And as far as I know the Earth was not destroyed in 1976 (though Bohemian Rhapsody was released that year).
So … maybe not as much need to panic as that initial tweet implied?
Please, science writers and others, don't take the cheap and easy headline just for the page traffic. Here are a few suggestions you can use instead:
- It's Totally Going to Miss Us, So Don't Worry About the Size
- Scientists Plan on Learning Something New (By Looking at a Humongous Asteroid as it Flies By)
- It Sounds Scary but People Who Know About These Things are Not Concerned
- It Will Be Less Painful Than Your Grandma's Latest Kidney Stone—We Promise
- Giant Asteroids: The Space Version of Darwin's Finches?
You're welcome, journalists.