Sunday, October 9, 2011

Asteroid (35396) 1997 XF11

I remember the day as if it were yesterday. I was 10 years old and watching some program on the Discovery Channel when I heard horrific news. Scientists predicted that on October 26, 2028, asteroid  (35396) 1997 XF11 would come very close to, and possibly collide with the Earth.  I freaked out. I was so sure I had just heard the announcement of the end of the world (and I wouldn't even live to see 37!). Although my dad tried to reassure me that there was no need to worry, I couldn't feel safe until I found some factual evidence. After some time on the internet, I learned that the chances of the asteroid actually colliding with the Earth were very slim. However I never forgot that "near-death experience", and to this day, I've never once forgotten the asteroid's name. 

I thought now would be a good time to revisit the topic.  The picture below shows the asteroid (35396) 1997 XF11. No, I can't really tell which one it is either - I just thought it was really cool that I could even find it! 

Asteroid (35396) 1997 XF 11 was discovered on December 6, 1997 by James V. Scotti. In 1998, equations showed that although the chances of a collision were small, the possibility was not out of the question. Prior to fully checking his results with his colleagues, Brian Mardsen released his calculations that the chances of a collision were as high as one in a thousand. Media all over the world made this a front-page story.  For any of you that are worried, the current prediction is this: on October 26, 2028, this asteroid will get as close as 930,000 kilometers to the Earth. To put things in perspective, the moon is about 380,000 kilometers away from the Earth. Though (35396) 1997 XF 11 will likely pass even closer to the Earth in successive orbits, there is, so far, no need to worry about collision. It is currently on the PHA (Potentially Hazardous Asteroids) list.  I can sleep better at night knowing that there are dedicated scientists keeping their eye on this. 

1 comment:

  1. If you want to get (in)famous, get a PhD in astronomy and then make a press release about some possible apocalypse. It is, however, also a good way to frustrate your fellow astronomers :P

    I wonder if this is like the boy who cried wolf. What if astronomers discovered an asteroid that might actually hit the Earth and we ought to go do some sort of Hollywood-like space mission to save the Earth, and no one believes us because we predict the end of the Earth once every year or so? (Most recent example I can think of is a guy in Australia last year who predicted that Betelgeuse would go supernova in 2012, causing us to have a second sun... the consensus is that Betelgeuse is "near" going supernova as in there's a small possibility that it might go sometime in the next 10,000 years but more likely much later than that.)