Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

So near and yet so far!

Apocaholics around the world might just be forgiven for heaving a secret wistful sigh as the catchily-named asteroid 2005 YU55 passes by a mere 325,000km away tonight.

We've known about this one for a while, unlike the two that took everyone by surprise when they came much closer last year; I suggested then that a fly-by was an excellent excuse for a party but, frankly, in the middle of the working week in November, I'm not sure I can summon up the enthusiasm.

In today's climate of austerity, it's almost surreal to think that Lembit Opik once drew up realistic plans for a National Asteroid Agency to scan the skies for approaching doom - although, as I remember, he wasn't particularly clear on what, exactly, we could have done about it.

Global news coverage has shown up some interesting variations in tone; while the Boston Globe is decidedly upbeat - Big asteroid to make close, harmless zip by Earth - the Wall Street Journal is far less sanguine - Asteroid to Just Squeeze Past Earth.

Meanwhile the Irish Times is milking the situation for all it's worth - Astronomers focus on asteroid hurtling towards Earth - and the New Zealanders are in full prophet-of-doom mode with Close-call asteroid would have devastating impact if it hit - either there's a closet apocaholic on their editorial staff or someone's having a really bad day.

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