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.
[UPDATE (Oct. 4 at 21:00 UTC): WARNING: The “Remember the 13th” web page discussed below may be a scam, used by a company for phishing, a way to collect email addresses from people to sell to spammers. The site Android Malware Dump has the scoop. DO NOT ENTER YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS AT the “Remember the 13th” web page! In fact, don’t even visit the site; I’ve removed all links to it to be safe. Thanks to my friend James Kerwin for letting me know.]
I’m getting a lot of tweets and emails asking me about a mysterious website that’s popped up in the last few days. Called “Remember the 13th”, it purports to have huge news from NASA it will reveal:
“The biggest discovery that will shake the Earth, it will never be the same again. [sic]”
A lot of folks are assuming this is an official NASA webpage, because it uses the NASA logo, and says, “NASA has made a historic discovery that will shake the entire planet.” But note that nowhere on the page does it actually say it’s an official NASA page.
The one thing we can know for sure is that this is not an official NASA site. Being a government agency, NASA has to follow certain rules about websites, and this one has a few key indicators it’s not legit:
- Official NASA sites are all part of the nasa.gov network, and this one isn’t.
- WHOIS reports it’s registered through Panama. Hello. [UPDATE (Oct. 4 at 18:00 UTC): The actual ownership of the site is hidden using an anonymizing service, and it’s that service that reports the site is in Panama. But NASA would never use a service like this, so the argument stands.]
- Official NASA sites don’t use the “.com” top-level domain.
- All NASA sites are inaccessible right now due to the government shutdown.
Any one of those is enough to show this ain’t NASA.
- NASA To Have A BIG Announcement On November 13th : Hoax (ufo-blogger.com)
- NASA To Announce Earth Shaking News 11/13/2013 Claims RememberThe13th.Com? Hoax? (disclose.tv)
- NASA To Have A BIG Announcement On November 13th!! (usahitman.com)
- NASA Disinformation Campaign Launched (intellihub.com)
- NASA Captures Epic ‘Frog Photo’ (chemecon.org)
- NASA’s moon landing remembered today as a promise of a ‘future which never happened’ (scienceblog.com)
- Gravity Review: In Space, Everyone Can Hear You Dream (spaceref.com)
- UFO Sighting In NASA Footage – Fleet of UFOs Flying Away From Earth (disclose.tv)
- Can Social Media Save NASA – and the Rest of the Science World? (geeksugar.com)
- The Real Reason Why NASA Is Being Shut Down (southweb.org)
My skeptical radar is activated each time I hear a celebrity endorse a product or promote a cause. While generally harmless, celebrities have such large audiences that they have the ability to broadcast their message to a large number of people, and can impact their decisions.
Celebrity endorsements in sports, for example, will take a famous athlete, put their name on a box/bottle, and try to catch the consumer’s eye. For substantial amounts of cash, they will lend their name to a product that they may or may not even use, and which may or may not have some benefit to the consumer.
I am concerned, however, when celebrities endorse and promote something that has an obvious negative impact to an individual or to a group of individuals, and when they claim they know the “truth” or “they are the experts” (as if there is some sort of conspiracy and only they have access to the real information).
Case and point, Jenny McCarthy.
Jenny has sipped the antivax Kool Aid, and now spreads her gospel across any media that will let her. She is a strong believer that autism is a direct result from vaccines. I will not spend any time debunking this myth, as it has been covered in countless articles and science journals, but I will review the common misconception surrounding vaccines, and the impact of these misconceptions.
You can make an argument that vaccines have saved more lives than any other medical discovery (smallpox alone has killed approximately 500 million people, until its vaccine was developed), and research shows no evidence to indicate a link between vaccines and autism. No matter which evidence or advantage is put forward, the antivax movement will not change their opinion (sure, maybe there are some, but the big names, like Jenny, won’t). Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s study on autism and vaccines* has been formally retracted by the Lancet. Surely, this would sway Jenny’s to the rational side? No, Wakefield is being treated as a martyr.
The fact of the matter is, Jenny McCarthy is not helping people. She is jeopardizing the lives of children: vaccinated, and not. When the general population loses herd immunity, then very young kids (babies), who aren’t old enough to take certain vaccines, are at risk.
Phil Plait, says it best on his blog, Bad Astronomy:
“If you think Jenny McCarthy, Jim Carrey, and the rest of the ignorant antiscience antivax people are right, then read this story. I dare you. David McCaffery writes about his daughter, Dana, who was four weeks old when she died. Too young to get vaccinated herself, she contracted whooping cough because vaccination rates in that part of Australia are too low to provide herd immunity. This poor little girl died in her father’s arms, and the blame rests squarely on the antivaccination movement.”
MORE . . .
Andrew Wakefield’s delusions have expanded to the point where he will go down as one of the most notorious cranks in medical history. In a rambling interview with the illustrious Mike Adams of NaturalNews, Wakefield says all the great thinkers of medical history are ignored in their lifetime. Many are eventually recognized for their brilliance, but some (and I suspect Wakefield is one of these) are never recognized.
Wakefield, as you may remember, first made a name for himself at a press conference prior to the publication of what should have been a widely ignored article on an observational study of twelve children involving a possible connection between bowel disorders and developmental disorders. The paper had nothing to do with vaccine safety. At the press conference on 26 February 1998 to promote the paper (published 28 February 1998), Wakefield shocked his colleagues by using the occasion to suggest that the MMR vaccine, in use in the United States since the early 1970s and in Great Britain for a decade, could be responsible for the rising rates of autism. He speculated about “some children” having especially sensitive immune systems that made them unable to handle the three vaccines at once. He made further speculations about autism and asserted that he could no longer “support the continued use of the three vaccines given together.” We now know that he was hoping to cash in on a patent for a single shot measles vaccine. He was then, and continues now, to just make stuff up.
MORE . . .
Many people believe that childhood MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccinations are linked to childhood autism, and that the link was covered up by the government and medical establishment. The vaccine-autism link claim was originally made by Dr. Andrew Wakefield and published in a small 1998 case report. The British General Medical Council found he had acted unethically in his research, and his paper, which was championed by celebrities including Jenny McCarthy, was retracted. The vaccine-autism link has been completely discredited in follow-up studies and research.
- Vaccines and Jenny McCarthy: the Oprah mea culpa interview doctors want to see (drjengunter.wordpress.com)
- On Ignorance: The Anti-Vaccine Movement – Don’t come cryin’ to me when your child has whooping cough, or rubella, or polio, or some other “outdated” disease you were too ignorant to vaccinate against. (michiganjournal.org)
- Medical Myths: When Urban Legends Kill (livescience.com)