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

Monday 21 October 2013

Apocalypse 2032

So, once again, we are in, as our transatlantic cousins would say, a 'non-zero impact probability situation'.

This is, of course, our new friend 2013 TV135, a 1,300' wide hunk of rock whizzing about the solar system which was spotted last month.

The news has, predictably enough, sent the tabloids into overdrive:
Nasa admit huge asteroid could destroy Earth in just NINETEEN years (Star)
Huge asteroid 'will hit earth in 2032' claim astronomers (Express)
Which, once you have eliminated the inevitable hyperbole, translates as 'current  observations indicate a 1 in 19,000 chance of striking the Earth in 2032' - those observations providing just ten days' worth of data so far.

What seems to have got everyone so excited is the announcement that TV135 has been given a rating of 1 on the Torino scale, one of only two in that classification at present.

And even that, when you get down to the detail, isn't quite as exciting as it sounds; the scale goes from 0 to 10, and 1 - 'Normal' - doesn't even make it into the yellow zone, let alone orange or red:

A routine discovery in which a pass near Earth is predicted that poses no unusual level of danger. Current calculations show the chance of collision is extremely unlikely with no cause for public attention or public concern. New telescopic observations very likely will lead to re-assignment to Level 0.

Still, why let the details get in the way of a good headline? It's a tabloid editor's dream; too far into the future to spark a mass panic but threatening enough to create a sensation.

It would be pleasant to think that this major global threat - even if it exists largely in the minds of sensation-hungry journalists - might bring about a radical improvement in behaviour and provide humanity with a new sense of purpose, but I suspect much of what we laughably call civilization is too far gone for that.

When the idea of impending doom took hold in plague- and war-ravaged 14th-Century Europe, society polarised into religious fanaticism and hedonism, some groups becoming ever more extreme in asserting their own religious superiority while others descended into a last-ditch Bacchanalian frenzy.

Somehow, we seem to have got to that stage before the threat arrived.


  1. ""Nasa admit huge asteroid could destroy Earth in just NINETEEN years""

    And not a moment too soon!

  2. Who needs asteroids when you have Westminster and Washington?

  3. Just kidding - it's really going to hit us. Kaboom!

  4. "society polarised into religious fanaticism and hedonism"

    Guess which one we voted for when given the chance a few centuries later.

  5. Bucks, I'm inclined to agree -look what happened to the dinosaurs and they hadn't even invented scripted reality TV.

    Demetrius, they do seem to be doing a good job of ruining things, though I'd rather contemplate a natural disaster than spend time thinking about them.

    JH, given how little notice we seem to be getting of these things, it 's quite likely another one will get here first.

    AKH, do you think they are mutually exclusive as a reaction to stress? I wonder what dictates the response - cultural factors or personality (though, like all the things, they eventually meet round the back; the grim satisfaction of hell-fire preaching and the antics of the 'flagellantes' must come close to pleasure for some).

  6. Bucko, my apologies; I typed that last one on a borrowed iPad with rather less accuracy (and much more resultant swearing) than I had hoped.

  7. Check the earlier comment and the name I inadvertently bestowed on you - given my haphazard typing skills, using an iPad is a deeply irritating experience which leaves me incapable of effective proofreading.

    (Actually, things aren't much better with my laptop; a regrettable habit of eating toast while browsing the blogosphere has led to a crumb lodged under the 'b' and the key intermittently failing to work - so it could have been worse!)

  8. Ahh, I see.

    And you know what is amazing? I have EXACTLY the same problem with the Y on my laptop.


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