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.
Last week, the British newspaper, “The Daily Mail,” acquiesced in the face of a lawsuit filed by Sally Morgan, aka “Psychic Sally,” a talk-to-the dead medium and self-styled professional psychic. The paper agreed to pay £125,000 in libel damages and issued a full apology for running a story written by the British magician, Paul Zenon, which alleged that Ms. Morgan had relied upon concealed electronics in order to gain information used in a public performance of psychic readings and mediumship.
Obviously this is a tremendous disappointment to skeptics everywhere, because many in the general public will take the judgment as some kind of evidence that Morgan is genuinely psychic. Of course there is no basis in the judgment for such an interpretation because the case was purely about whether the paper could prove that Morgan had used the alleged radio devices and hidden earpieces to gain information about her subjects. The case began when two women who were at the show in question later called into a local radio talk show and claimed they heard Morgan repeating information that they overheard in transmissions from the production crew’s headsets. Morgan immediately denied the charges and the venue eventually announced that the crew in question was a local house crew that was not on Morgan’s payroll.
Given what we know of the British libel system, albeit very recently reformed and legally improved, we might speculate that the paper decided that it was less costly to settle now rather than pursue the case in the courts, with an uncertain outcome. Then again, with the theater confirming that the crew in question was not in Morgan’s employ, it does seem quite conceivable that the assumptions made by the women callers were in error. It is simply sad to see someone who makes their living on the dubious claims of Ms. Morgan ends up being further rewarded beyond the already grotesque sums she makes portraying herself as a communicator with the dead relatives of grieving supplicants.
But I think there are also lessons to be had for skeptics in these events, beyond thoughts about the British libel system.
Skeptics – even skeptical magicians – can and have often been misled by their own complex theories about how phony psychics ply their trade. When Uri Geller first came on the scene, the noted magician and author Milbourne Christopher theorized that Geller was using corrosive chemicals on his hands in order to achieve his “psychic” spoon-bending. Christopher was an expert magician and a skeptic, but he was fooled by Geller, and concocted an elaborate but completely mistaken theory in order to fill the gap in his knowledge and understanding.
Similarly, the two women who thought that Sally Morgan was getting inside information relayed by her crew were doubtless sincere in their theorizing, perhaps because they did not believe that Morgan was psychic, but could not explain how she was achieving success with her readings.
- Psychic Sally Damages (In More Ways Than One) (randi.org)
- Sally Morgan Libel Suit (theness.com)
- British Psychic TV Channels Fined For Not Telling Viewers It’s All B.S. (illuminutti.com)
A bizarre emergency call was made to the Fremont County Emergency Dispatch Center last week by several occupants of a residence, reporting that the 31-year-old woman was possessed by a “poltergeist” and that a “biting demon” had been terrorizing their home, The Daily Mail reported.
Those performing the exorcism told police a demon had broken windows and dishes and bitten people inside the home for two days, but the deputy found nothing to indicate criminal (or supernatural) activity.
The woman was taken to a nearby hospital and was in stable condition the next day, KTAK radio reported.
Attempted exorcisms are not so rare in the United States. Earlier this month, a Virginia man was sentenced to more than 20 years after he told police that an evil spirit entered his body while he was trying to exorcise his 2-year-old daughter, and it forced him to murder her in cold blood, the Associated Press reported.