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 11 December 2012

By Toutatis, the sky will not fall on our heads!

Asteroid time again - this time it's Toutatis, an old friend who drops by every four years or so.

The number of close approaches combined with its size - 4.5km long -  officially makes it a Potentially Hazardous Object but don't get too excited - current calculations put the chance of a collision within the next six hundred years as 'essentially zero' and it doesn't get much more likely after that either.

And in any case, 'close' is, of course, a relative term; astronomers start talking about 'proximity' when anything gets with a few million miles of Earth. Toutatis will actually be zipping by a comfortable 6.3 million miles away.

It's comforting, somehow, to know that Newtonian mechanics make some things, at least, predictable; there's quite enough uncertainly about already. To be honest, the chances of an asteroid wiping out civilization as we know it must be rather less than us bringing it about all by ourselves.

Though if the theory is right that human intelligence has been declining ever since we started practising agriculture and living in cities, the end will probably be less than spectacular, accompanied by the much-quoted whimper - or possibly the inane drivel of a world of radio show hosts.

Still, any flyby is a reason to raise a glass or two, so, tonight, we will be drinking a toast to Toutatis - a few days too early to put the wind up the Mayan prophecy lot but a good excuse for a party nonetheless.


  1. With any luck Richard Branson will land on it. But could it become a tourist destination?

  2. "It's comforting, somehow,"

    It is. Let's get back to the real world and forget about dodgy computer models and their fake disasters.

  3. "...current calculations put the chance of a collision within the next six hundred years as 'essentially zero' ..."

    *hums Jeff Wayne's 'War Of The Worlds' overture*

  4. Demetrius, I wouldn't put anything past the man. Mind you, we haven't seen much of his much-vaunted spaceport recently, have we?

    AKH, ...almost as comforting as ice-cores as a source of immutable certainty.

    Julia, yes - definitely!



Moderation is on as I’m having some technical difficulties with Comments