By Josh Dean
On August 18, 2015, an otherwise unexceptional summer Tuesday, NASA issued a press release titled “There is No Asteroid Threatening Earth.” This was an alarming headline to stumble upon if you had no idea that people out there were actually concerned that an asteroid might threaten Earth soon — so concerned, in fact, that their agitating and blog writing forced the world’s most respected space agency to issue an unequivocal denial.
“Numerous blogs are erroneously claiming that an asteroid will impact Earth, sometime between Sept. 15 and 28, 2015,” the release stated. “There is no scientific basis — not one shred of evidence — that an asteroid will impact Earth on those dates,” declared Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Near-Earth Object (NEO) office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. In fact, the release continued, NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program “says there have been no asteroids or comets observed that would impact Earth anytime in the foreseeable future.”
It seemed, out of context, like something from the Onion. Incredible rumors often arise, but rarely do they gain enough credence that the head of a national scientific office sees fit to comment, and then issue a press release. But such is the curious and little understood world of planetary defense, wherein a small but growing community of scientists study and prepare for the possibility that a chunk of rock from space could plunge through our atmosphere and strike the Earth, causing wanton destruction.
Picture: NASA/JPL () [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons