CCNet 70/2003 - 9 September 2003

"One very easy way to reduce future asteroid scares is by dropping
the Torino Scale from the JPL and Pisa risk pages.
     -- Brian Marsden, MPC,, 9 Sept. 2003

" has learned that the ranking system has already undergone
a revision, taking into account earlier criticisms."
     --Rob Britt, on attempts to revise the Torino Scale, 9 Sept 2003

If we consider future asteroid scares, they are likely to be for the
300m - 800m range, since all the larger NEAs will soon be under
orbital surveillance. Why then deprive the public of the last handful
of doomsday predictions and subsequent retractions?
    --Jens Kieffer-Olsen, CCNet, 9 Sept. 2003












By Robert Roy Britt
Senior Science Writer
Kevin Yates could not foresee the global media circus and public anxiety he would fuel last week with a routine Web posting about a potentially dangerous asteroid.

Nor could he know that days later a handful researchers would suggest ditching the four-year-old Torino Scale, which rates asteroid hazards like the Richter Scale ranks earthquakes and was designed to improve communication between astronomers and the public.

In a telephone interview yesterday, the Torino Scale's creator stands by its value, but has learned that the ranking system has already undergone a revision, taking into account earlier criticisms, as part of a forthcoming book.

The media firestorm is just the latest in a long series of foibles involving asteroid researchers and journalists. It began Sept. 3. 

Earth is doomed, again

Yates said received a request for information from a BBC radio reporter about a newfound asteroid whose chance of hitting Earth could not be ruled out. As project manager of the British government's Near Earth Object Information Center (NEOIC), Yates posted information and expert quotations about the space rock on the organization's web site.

Newspapers and web sites around the world quickly warned of a treacherous asteroid called 2003 QQ47. It was on course to destroy the planet, many stories said.

"Earth is doomed" was among the most outlandish of a slew of misleading headlines.

Few of the publications bothered to mention a day later that the odds of impact had dropped to zero. The coverage was called "obsolete and overblown" by one asteroid researcher, the lack of retractions "shocking and reprehensible."

The odds of collision were put 1-in-909,000 in the year 2014. The rock ranked a 1 on the Torino Scale, meaning it deserved "careful monitoring" by astronomers. Zero is the lowest and 10 is a worst-case scenario. In many stories, these truths were buried below a frosting of frightening adjectives and alarmingly active verbs.

Yates, whose agency is barely a year old, became a lighting rod for criticism from his peers, astronomers and asteroid analysts who have been similarly bitten by the media in recent years. What Yates didn't fully understand, but what his colleagues did, was that any mention of an asteroid with miniscule odds of impact could become fodder for outlandish claims of impending Armageddon.

Doom sells papers.

By the end of the day -- and even before some of the stories were published -- more scientific observations had been gathered and the chance of collision was reduced to zero, "leaving many journalists with egg on their faces," wrote Leon Jaroff in Time Magazine.

The scientific outcome, indeed the whole process, was routine. Three dozen other newfound asteroids this year have had similar long-term non-zero chances of impact. Of these, five still have not been ruled out. Three of the objects, in addition to 2003 QQ47, ranked 1 on the Torino Scale.

But for whatever reasons the media didn't notice any these objects.

Importantly, last week's episode was a virtual rerun of four others that have occurred since 1998. There is one key difference, however. Each time previously, astronomers worked diligently on ways to prevent a recurrence. This time, there are a predictable round of accusations and more suggestions for how to improve the system.

But the sentiment among eight experts interviewed by is clearly different: It will happen again.

Other victims

"We have all been victims of this same problem with earlier impact scares, and we have all learned from this," said Brian Marsden, who runs the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Mass. "Kevin [Yates] is newer to the game, but I suspect that he, too, will come to appreciate that the media are frequently quite incorrigible and will milk a story for all they think it is worth, whatever we may say."

Marsden knows this better than anyone in the Near Earth Object (NEO) community, a loose affiliation of scientists who study comets and asteroids that share the general space through which Earth orbits.

Marsden is the father of asteroid controversy.

His Minor Planet Center is like Grand Central Station for asteroid observations. All the data and analysis flows through there.

It was Marsden who issued the first modern public warning about an asteroid that might hit Earth. On March 11, 1998, he put out a press statement regarding asteroid 1997 XF11, between 1 and 2 kilometers (0.62-1.24 miles) wide. "The chance of an actual collision is small, but one is not entirely out of the question," the statement said.

The story went global.

Within a day, further study by two separate groups (spurred on by Marsden's comments) showed that 1997 XF11 could not strike the planet.

Yesterday Marsden told me he'd used words that were "a little unwise. I should have realized that some people read only first paragraphs." The statement later noted that the computations were uncertain.

Marsden and other scientists have disagreed ever since about exactly what happened and why. But most of them agree on one thing:

"These mistakes are made only once by each person," said David Morrison, a Senior Scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center and chair of working group on NEOs in the International Astronomical Union. "And I learned my lesson."

The weekend news

Morrison had been earnestly hunting for dangerous asteroids for 12 years. He's one of the founding fathers of the Spaceguard Survey, an effort mandated by Congress, financed mostly by NASA, and charged with finding 90 percent of all Near Earth Objects. These NEOs are asteroids and comets larger than 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) that roam the region of space also occupied by Earth.

Morrison's lesson came in 2000.

By then, having learned from the 1997 XF11 affair and another false alarm in 1999, Morrison had helped institute a 72-hour review period by the International Astronomical Union. Asteroid data would be more thoroughly vetted before public release of potentially alarming impact odds.

Then a relatively small asteroid named 2000 SG344 was determined to have a 1-in-500 chance of impact, the highest ever. The review process kicked in, and the odds were verified by other researchers. NASA issued a press release on a Friday. Headlines were made. Hours later, new observations rolled in and the impact probability evaporated.

Because it was the weekend, Morrison and his colleagues say, most reporters did not pick up on the revised information.

"Once again the astronomers looked foolish," Morrison and his colleagues write in a forthcoming book, "Impacts and the Public: Communicating the Nature of the Impact Hazard."

Marsden disagrees with who was at fault. He calls the IAU review process "stupid," and says it was not the reporters at fault, but the fact that astronomers weren't available on the weekend to be interviewed.

However, there is agreement on one important point: The problem with 2000 SG344 was a direct result of a 1999 public flap.

Charging cover-up

Benny Peiser was at the center of the 1999 controversy. The social anthropologist at Liverpool John Moores University in the UK runs an electronic newsletter called CCNet, which monitors NEO research and examines the impact of discoveries and press coverage on public perception.

In a now-infamous situation involving asteroid 1999 AN10, Peiser found online an obscure scientific paper that described that asteroid's less than 1-in-a-million chance of hitting Earth. He put the paper in his newsletter and, in Morrison's words, "charged cover-up."

A standard round of press hype ensued, slanting toward the suggestion that scientists might hide information about a deadly asteroid. [MODERATOR'S NOTE: I should remind readers that the
paper in question, despite the exceedingly low odds, suggested that an attempt to nuke
the asteroid might be necessary; BP].

Astronomers have since felt wedged between an asteroid and a hard place, unsure about when, whether, and how overtly to publicize what they know about asteroids about which -- and this is important -- they know very, very little. The initial odds are typically based on just a few days of observations, which cover a tiny segment of an asteroid's overall orbital path.

The outcome of the 1999 AN10 incident was the 72-hour review period that created the climate for the 2000 SG344 mistakes.

Little changed. Last year, astronomers made no unusual announcements about asteroid 2002 NT7, which for a time carried 6-in-a-million odds of a future Earth impact. The BBC's Web site picked up on the data and led the way in warning that the object was on a collision course with Earth, which no astronomer ever said was the case. Within days odds were reduced to zero. One astronomer called the journalism in that case "utter rubbish."

Now, barely a year later, other media took the same approach with another newly discovered space rock.

A clear pattern

A clear pattern emerges from the asteroid scares. Odds of an impact are widely reported, then within days or hours new data turns up to bring the chances to zero.

So I asked Morrison and the seven other experts: Why not simply keep the data under wraps until more observations come in? After all, it is common practice with other scientific work to go through extensive internal and peer review -- sometimes lasting months -- before going public with important findings.

This is one of the few ideas about which they all agree, and they all think it's a bad idea.

As Morrison puts it, "People think of these predictions as relating to them and their future safety. These are not just routine scientific results."

As the scientists say it, the public demands to know. But there's a more subtle reason lurking in the background. While Joe and Jane Public are unlikely to clamor for this data, there's always someone around to charge cover-up if it isn't released immediately.

Posting orbital data "keeps the conspiracy folks from getting too vocal," said Donald Yeomans, in charge of the Near Earth Object Program Office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

Yeomans also points out that the data is peer reviewed. His team crosschecks results with a similar group in Italy, which runs a program called NEODys at the University of Pisa. Both groups maintain Web sites that are available to the public and, importantly, to amateur astronomers.

The amateur contribution to the search effort, which arose partly do to limited funding for asteroid search and study, is another key reason for posting the data.

"Most of the follow-up activity is by amateur astronomers, with new ones coming along all the time," says Marsden of the Minor Planet Center. "I think it would be most unwise to limit access to the Web page."

Who is to blame?

Though frustrated with the media, total exasperation on the part of asteroid experts seems to be evaporating as fast as impact odds are typically reduced.

"Actually the situation has gotten better," said Richard Binzel, who in 1999 unveiled the Torino Scale for gauging asteroid risk. "Overall the reporting has gotten better -- in terms of the content correctly conveying that new data will almost certainly reduce the threat to Torino Scale zero." The Torino scale was mentioned in more stories last week than has ever been the case before with asteroid scares.

But none of this stopped Peiser, the social anthropologist, from putting on the gloves in this, round five of the Asteroid Scares.

To journalists and their unwillingness to run retractions or corrective stories on day two, Peiser had this to say: "This lack of journalistic prudence and accountability is shocking and reprehensible."

Peiser also lashed out at the NEOIC, calling Yates' posting of information about asteroid 2003 QQ47 "ill-timed and unnecessary."

The asteroid is about three-quarters of a mile wide (1.2 kilometers). It was discovered Aug. 24 by the LINEAR search program at MIT. Yates' NEOIC posting said the rock "would deliver around 350,000 megatons of energy in an impact with Earth," a highly quotable phrase that was highly quoted.

Like others interviewed for this article, Peiser believes the rock would not have been so widely reported last week, nor with such misleading headlines, had the NEOIC simply stayed quiet.

The concern, on the part of Peiser and others, is that asteroid scares erode scientific credibility.

Yates defends his actions. He hoped the NEOIC's Web posting would "promote understanding of the process of asteroid detection, tracking and risk assessment."

He is also well aware that sensational headlines sell newspapers.

"The level of interest in our web article did come as a surprise to us, but we do not believe it is fair to point the finger too strongly at the media," Yates said. "Whilst a number of the headlines were once again sensational, our assessment is that the content of many articles marked an improvement in accuracy and balance over previous asteroid stories."

Yates went on to say that the NEOIC will continue to "work with media and science communication experts to increase awareness of trends in reporting complex scientific issues such as these."

Junk the Torino Scale?

Meanwhile, over the weekend, the Torino Scale came under fire. David Asher of the Armagh Observatory called the rating system "absurd." An ensuing discussion led Peiser and Marsden, yesterday, to call for the scale to be sacked.

"One very easy way to reduce" future asteroid scares "is by dropping the Torino Scale from the JPL and Pisa risk pages," said Marsden, the Minor Planet Center director.

Binzel and his colleagues -- Morrison of Ames and Clark Chapman of the Southwest Research Institute -- have already completed a revision of the Torino Scale. It stresses that an asteroid rated 1 is a normal event "that is likely to go away" and can be ignored by journalists.

The revisions will be part of the book mentioned above, "Impacts and the Public."

Binzel prefers not to engage in a debate about the merits of the Torino Scale until the revisions are published, but he does say the scale has been effective.

"The Torino Scale ... gives both the astronomers, journalists, and the public a common point of reference," he said. "We have made a good leap up the learning curve where journalists (not to mention editors) are now learning that something with a score of "1" on the Torino Scale is not news, just as a magnitude 1 earthquake in California is not news."

Not again

Whatever the fate of the Torino Scale, there will be plenty more opportunities for asteroid hunters to interact with the media. The pace of discovery increases each year.

Astronomers might reverse the focus of their public comments, Binzel suggests. Rather than discuss the 1-in-a-million odds of an impact, they could emphasize the overwhelming odds that an object will go away.

Paul Chodas, who ferrets out the trajectories of potentially threatening rocks at JPL's Near Earth Object Program Office, offered other suggestions for avoiding a repeat of last week's events.

"I think it is important that we reserve press announcements for those cases that we find truly remarkable, and even partially worthy of any over-hyped press coverage they might receive," Chodas said. "It might also have been wise for the NEOIC to contact us before making announcements based on our calculations."

An expanded internal dialogue has already started. In part as a response to the exchange between scientists generated by the reporting of this article, Chodas, Yates and Marsden are discussing ways to improve cooperation and coordination.

But no one expects to have much effect on the media.

"I am sure the NEOIC won't repeat that mistake again," said Benny Peiser. "But I am equally sure that the latest asteroid scare won't be the last."

Copyright 2003,

MODERATOR'S NOTE: I am pleased to learn about the latest attempts to rectify the
Torino Scale. However, after the lessons of the QQ47 fiasco, the responsibility
for any future scare that is triggered as a reaction to high TS values will
fully and squarely fall on the shoulders of those who believe it can be
salvaged. BP

El Defensor Chieftain, 6 September 2003

By Pepita Ridgeway

An asteroid two-thirds of a mile wide, discovered on Aug. 24 by the Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research program on White Sands Missile Range, made world news this week as astronomers tried to calculate whether Earth was in its orbit.

Initial calculations by astronomers estimated that the asteroid could hit the planet in 2014 and world media scooped up the discovery, announcing that the asteroid was first observed in Socorro.

Grant Stokes, principle investigator of the LINEAR program and associate head of the aerospace division at Lincoln laboratory, said it is now known that the asteroid, designated as "2003QQ47," could never reach Earth.

"It was an unfortunate process of release of information to the public. We send the information to the Minor Planets Center at the Harvard Smithsonian in Cambridge , Mass. If it is a known object, the center will put the observation on its catalogues.

"If it is not a known object, they give a discovery designation. If it's interesting, observers worldwide take follow up data on the object. LINEAR searches broad areas of the sky and other astronomers follow up the data after about six days of the orbit being determined. They are propagating a very long time into the future. The error bubble, our understanding of where it's going to be -- includes the Earth. The error bubble is huge. There was an indication of a potential collision. This is exactly what happened in this case.

"Each day we get new data and the error bubble collapses, as has happened in every one of these cases in the past. As we get more data, all of a sudden the potential for a collision is infinitesimally small. The 2014 collision is now zero probability," said Stokes.

The LINEAR project, at Stallion Range, about 25 miles from Socorro, is a Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory program funded by the U.S. Air Force and NASA. The goal of the LINEAR program is to demonstrate the application of technology originally developed for the surveillance of earth orbiting satellites, to the problem of detecting and cataloging Near Earth Asteroids (also referred to as Near Earth Objects, or NEOs) that threaten the Earth.

Stokes said that while all the discoveries so far have been harmless to Earth, "it is still well worthwhile going and finding all of these objects that could potentially come to the Earth. There have been over 11,000 (sic) potential objects discovered that are one-kilometer and larger that would have been near earth asteroids. Of those, LINEAR has found more than half. The statistics for collision is that it is unlikely that we will find something over the next 100 years. But it is worthwhile having modest resources to go out and find these."

The LINEAR program uses a pair of GEODSS telescopes at Lincoln Laboratory's Test Site. The telescopes are equipped with Lincoln Laboratory developed CCD electro-optical detectors and collected data is processed on site to generate observations. Observations are then sent to the main Lincoln Laboratory site on Hanscom AFB in Lexington, Mass. where they are linked from night to night.

LINEAR is responsible for 70 percent of the worldwide discovery stream of asteroids and comets, said Stokes, more than half of all known near Earth asteroids and well over 100 comets. "It has been a very significant contribution to the research of comet science. Because of their early discovery, astronomers now have the time to schedule the instruments to see inbound comets. Previously, when comets were only found with a tail, and much closer, observers could only observe them on their outbound orbit."

"LINEAR Discovers the majority of comets these days," said Stokes.

"The way we operate is a little different," said Stokes when asked the name of the new asteroid. "Standard asteroids surveys are personality driven. Often they are named after the Ph.D. astronomer at the telescope. We have added an industrial model to that. The only way to go out and discover that amount of sky is to observe all night every night. We have a team of about 12 people that runs those telescopes that make this process work. It's not personalized. All the discovered comets have the words LINEAR in their designation. It is very much a team effort. Not a single-person kind of thing."
Copyright 1999-2002 El Defensor Chieftain. All rights reserved. 


The Birmingham News, 8 September 2003

News staff writer

One day Earthlings could use lassos and lasers or solar sails to nudge Earth-bound asteroids out of the way, researchers say.

The ideas may seem farfetched. But the threat is real, the technology is possible, and a few researchers said last week that nations should begin taking steps to defend the planet from such hits.

"We have the emerging technologies to do the job at some point in the future," said Jonathan Campbell, a NASA researcher at the National Space Science Technology Center in Huntsville. "The question is, do we have the international will."

The issue came to the forefront last week when British astronomers were reported as giving an asteroid about two-thirds of a mile wide a one-in-909,000 chance of hitting the Earth in 2014. The next day, the astronomers said that after more observation, they had determined asteroid 2003 QQ47 had virtually no chance of hitting the Earth.

But for a day the question was there. What could be done if an asteroid large enough to cause a global catastrophe was headed toward Earth?

The first problem NASA researchers trying to perfect a means of diverting incoming debris are tackling is spotting large asteroids and comets, called Near Earth Objects.

NASA's Near Earth Object program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California is tracking 663 large asteroids, those bigger than a half-mile in diameter, said Paul Chodas, research scientist in that program.

1,200 asteroids:

Researchers believe about 1,200 asteroids of that size are in near Earth orbit, which is within 30 million miles of the planet, Chodas said. "Our goal is to discover 90 percent of these large asteroids by 2008," he said.

Asteroids of that size could cause global climate change and kill billions of people, Chodas said.

Odds of a collision with an asteroid that size is small, Chodas said, since they hit just once in a half million years on average.

Smaller asteroids, however, are more common - possibly in the thousands or tens of thousands - and could cause severe regional damage if they hit Earth, researchers say.

The last significant impact was in the unpopulated Tunguska region of Russia in 1908, a group of 10 Marshall Space Flight Center researchers noted in a 23-page paper they presented at an engineering conference this summer. A 99-foot- to 198-foot-wide object is believed to have struck in that area.

That paper, "Planetary Defense: Options for Deflection of Near Earth Objects," says that if that same object had hit Madison County, the majority of its 250,000 or so residents would have been killed. If it had hit a city such as New York or London, millions would have been killed, the report says.

The group studied seven methods for deflecting or destroying asteroids or comets on a collision path with Earth and developed computer models for them.

One was to blast them into small pieces with a nuclear weapon. Another was to blast a nuclear weapon near the object and let the thrust from gases being burned off the asteroid push it into another orbit. And another was to tether a solar sail to slowly pull an asteroid into a different path.

"We had a first estimate of what size and what type comets and asteroids we could deflect with a given system," said Rob Adams, an aerospace engineer in Advanced Planning and Concepts at Marshall and lead author of the paper.

Campbell, part of another group of researchers working on the problem, has filed a NASA patent on one idea - an inflatable laser/solar reflector that could push asteroids into safer orbits.

That idea calls for a spacecraft to fly toward the asteroid, and detach a smaller spacecraft. They would be connected to each other by a tether that would form a loop. The loop would have to spin to match the motion of the object, then be moved over the object and the tethers retracted to tighten the loop. A solar reflector would be inflated. By continuously tilting the reflector to capture sunlight, photons from the sunlight gradually would push the asteroid into a safer orbit.

Moon lasers:

Another idea for which Campbell plans to file a patent would put a bank of lasers on the moon to deflect incoming asteroids.

The debate over which method is the best continues, but Campbell said he believes a multiple-layer defense is needed. "I guess my answer is we should use them all," he said.

The paper from Adams' group urges more funding for studies in detecting and deflecting Near Earth Objects.

"Despite the impression given by Hollywood, it is not practical to wait until a specific threat is identified before starting work on a mitigation system. Systems engineering, system development and - in some cases - technology development, will take several years," the report says.

Chodas doesn't advocate spending money just yet to develop a system. "I think it's worthy of study. But I don't think it's worthy of developing a system yet because the odds are we won't have an asteroid on a collision course," he said.

But Chodas does support spending money to continue sending spacecraft to asteroids to find out what they are made of and how strong they are. "We need to know that if we are going to try to deflect it," he said

Copyright 2003, The Birmingham News
============ LETTERS ===========


Kelly Beatty <>


Let me add just a few more points, then I'll got back to being a quiet

First, one aspect of the Torino Scale's development that certainly I, and
perhaps Rick Binzel, did not anticipate was that reporters would want to
detail how a candidate object vacillates among the various classification
levels on a day-to-day (indeed, hour-to-hour) basis. Instead I imagined,
for example, that 2003 QQ47's initial TS ranking would reflect the
summation of all observations made during much/all of its 2003 apparition,
with further refinement at the next favorable apparition. The
near-real-time posting of risk assessments is not necessarily a *bad* thing
-- but it certainly provides a tempting excuse for abandoning journalistic

Second, I'd like to see the discussion expanded to explore the factors that
trigger news-media interest, regardless of what metric is used to describe
a candidate impactor. In the case of QQ47, it seems that said trigger was
the combination of (1) a large object, 1+ km across (2) with better than
one-in-a-million odds of striking (3) in the quite foreseeable future. It
would be a simple matter to conduct a public-opinion poll to gauge which of
these factors, or instead the Torino/Palermo rankings, mattered most in
driving the story. (It certainly didn't help that the collision risk was
initially reported by the NEOIC as the precise-sounding 1-in-909,000.)

Third, I'd like to hear from other journalists as to why the news media
handle developing hurricanes much more matter-of-factly than they do
asteroid scares. These two event scenarios have much in common, especially
with respect to how extended observations serve to refine the risk of landfall.

Kelly Beatty
Executive Editor


A/CC - Bill Allen <>

>The Asteroid/Comet Connection website is absolutely right when it
>criticises the confusing Torino language directed at the wrong address:
>"It can take weeks or months, and sometimes longer, to eliminate impact
>solutions, and it isn't unusual for a few of
>them during the process to rise to TS-1 ("merits special monitoring"),
>which is only an alert to orbital dynamicists and to the professional and
>amateur astronomers who do the observing."

I didn't realize that my statement could be taken as criticism of the
Torino Scale. It was made only as an explanation to those new to risk
monitoring, and I have rewritten it now to serve that purpose more clearly.

It has been a continuing education for me to learn how best to use the
Torino and Palermo scales in daily reporting about risk monitoring, but I
don't have any problems with using them. It is much easier to use the
Torino Scale for reporting about most objects and with a general audience.
I have come to only make direct reference to the Palermo Scale when the
point that needs to be made is worth the careful explanation that must
accompany it.


       The Asteroid/Comet Connection
  A central library of  news & info links
  & the Catchall Catalog of Minor Objects
  Send news to: <>
Columbine, Inc. POB 4787 Santa Fe NM 87502


Jens Kieffer-Olsen <>

Dear Benny Peiser,

If we consider future asteroid scares, they are likely to
be for the 300m - 800m range, since all the larger NEAs
will soon be under orbital surveillance.  Why then deprive
the public of the last handful of doomsday predictions and
subsequent retractions?  I believe the egg on astronomers'
faces is a fair reflection of their present inability to dismiss
the possibility of an Earth-shattering asteroid impact.  As that
inability is about to be history, so will the splatter of egg.

Smaller asteroids of course also generate non-zero values
on the Torino scale, but I'm sure the newspaper headlines
will shrink considerably, when the virtual impactor is a
country killer rather than a continent killer.

Future doomsday predictions may be based on the discovery
of large comets. The lessons learned from recent asteroid
scares may come in handy during such a hectic but hopefully
brief period of global angst.

Yours sincerely
Jens Kieffer-Olsen, M.Sc.(Elec.Eng.)
Slagelse, Denmark

MODERATOR'S NOTE: I wish Jens Kieffer-Olsen was right. However, if past
experience is anything to go by, even a smallish asteroid which is
published on "impact risk" websites with a high TS or PS value - even
if just for a single day, a week or a month - can easily trigger another
round of doomsday headlines. Take for example 2000 SG344. Although only
a tiny object that may in fact be man-made, an alarmist note to the media
by a NASA official claimed that an impact could trigger a disaster "100 times
stronger that the nuclear bomb in Hiroshima...". The headlines were

"SEPT 21, 2030: 500/1 IT'S THE END OF THE WORLD

The Mirror, 6 September 2000

PUT the date in your diary - there is a 500-to-one chance the world
will end on September 21 2030. Scientists have found an asteroid which
they calculate could hit Earth that day with an explosion 100 times
stronger than the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima....."

In short, regardless what the size of an object that is drawing the media's
attention simply because of its illogical and ahistoric TS value, the
public will ask: So, how many atomb bombs would that be if it hit....


Dave Tholen <tholen@IfA.Hawaii.Edu>

> What should the NEO community do after the pointless, ill-advised and
> misleading asteroid scare over QQ47?

Discourage publicists from publicizing such occurrences. That would
include you, Benny.


Mike Baillie <>


my assistant here in Belfast, Mr David Brown, reports that on Saturday night
last, 6th Sept, about 9/9.30 pm, just south of Belfast, he saw a large bright
meteor tracking approx SE to NW accompanied by an audible low volume hiss. 
This is the first time I've come across a local report of what would have
to be an electrophonic effect. 



The Mirror, 8 September 2003

SO, an asteroid may hit the Earth in March 2014 (Daily Mirror, September 3). Are we just going to sit and wait for it to destroy us, or are the governments and military of the world going to join forces and work out a way of preventing it from destroying our homes?
   --Richard Rhys Lloyd Colton, 8 September 2003

Asteroid/Comet Connection, 9 September 2003

2003 QO104 news: Early last evening in Pasadena, JPL issued a new assessment for 2003 QO104
( using new observations from Siding Spring Observatory in Australia ( These were received ahead of Tuesday's Daily Orbit Update MPEC (DOU) and added more than 26 hours to QO104's observation arc. That arc is now not quite eight days long, so this new assessment is still highly preliminary. JPL dropped the count of impact solutions by seven, to 39 in the years 2009-2099, but is also now showing Torino Scale 1 ratings (TS-1, "merits special monitoring") for four impact solutions, one each in the years 2009, 2031, 2034, and 2080.

And JPL has now put its cumulative Palermo Scale (PS) rating for 2003 QO104 at -0.01. This places the QO104 risk assessment on the brink of where the analysis was for 2002 NT7 [link|alt] on July 23rd last year. At that time NT7 had multiple TS-1 ratings, and an observing arc just under 14 days, when it became the first object to go into positive PS ratings for impact solutions within current lifetimes. This "historical" moment was picked up and announced by the news media without first getting it put into proper perspective by experts, and the news uproar went for the eight days it took to eliminate NT7's last impact solutions.

The Palermo Scale ( is a technical hazard scale and a companion to the Torino Scale used for informing the public about risks. Rising above PS 0.0 is passing the point where the risk calculated for a known object becomes a little larger than the estimated random "background" risk of being hit by something that wasn't seen coming. The PS formula uses factors including mass and warning time, and raises ratings for more mass and less warning. QO104 is estimated at 2.658 km. wide, while NT7 was estimated at 2.03 km. when it went PS positive. And, at that time, NT7's first TS-1 impact solution was 16+ years away, while QO104's first TS-1 is presently 5+ years away. So higher PS ratings for QO104 aren't a surprise at this stage in the routine cycle of observation and analysis.

2003 QO104 could become even more interesting before its impact solutions are all eliminated. It may go PS positive for awhile, and we could see the first-ever TS-2 rating: "A somewhat close, but not unusual encounter. Collision is very unlikely." But keep in mind how quickly other concerns such as NT7 evaporated with just a little more observing time.

Readers new to impact risk monitoring, please read "Understanding Risk Pages" by Jon Giorgini of JPL ( Editors and journalists, please note that this News page (and most other reporting on the A/CC site unless otherwise credited) is from a journalist who follows this field closely but who is not an authority. Please see a list of qualified experts available to the news media for advice and quotation for articles about impact risk possibilities.

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