No, Asteroid 2003 QQ47 Is NOT Going to Hit the Earth Next Week
Well, it took three months, but we have our first notpocalypse of 2014!
Twitter, Facebook, and other social media are spreading a story that a large asteroid named 2003 QQ47 might impact the Earth next week, specifically on March 21, 2014.
Let me be very clear right away: Nope. It won’t. This story is totally wrong! Well, the asteroid does exist, but it won’t hit us next week, and in fact can’t hit the Earth for at least a century. The truth is the asteroid will safely pass us on March 26 of this year, never getting closer than 19 million kilometers (nearly 12 million miles)—about 50 times farther away than the Moon!
I’m pretty sure what’s happening here is that a very old story has been recycled and is getting spread around without anyone doing any fact-checking. It’s all over Twitter and got picked up credulously by some bigger venues like the Daily Mail, which posted it with the typically understated title of “Asteroid hurtles toward Earth.” What follows after that is a breathless and almost entirely incorrect article about 2003 QQ47 that seems to simply rehash information from more than a decade ago. Seriously.*
For example, the Mail article says the asteroid is “newly discovered,” but in fact was first detected in 2003, 11 years ago! Hence its name, 2003 QQ47. It was found to be a near-Earth asteroid, or NEA, one that does sometimes get close to us. For a while after it was discovered it was thought to have a small chance of hitting Earth, with an impact probability in August 2014 of about 1 in 250,000. But by September 2003 new observations allowed a better trajectory to be calculated, and an impact in 2014 was ruled out. This happens quite often, where a new asteroid will have only a rough orbit calculated, and an impact has long but non-zero odds of hitting us. As more observations come in the chances of impact can actually increase briefly before dropping to zero.
This is what happened with QQ47 back in 2003. Got that? An impact in 2014, this year, was shown to be out of the question more than a decade ago and was even taken off JPL’s Sentry Risk page at that time, when it was found to have no potential Earth impacts for at least 100 years. We’re quite safe from this particular asteroid.