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

Saturday 5 April 2014

The end of the world is a little less nigh

There's sad news this week for those of an apocaholic disposition.

Recent observations have downgraded the impact threat from 2007 VK184 from its previous score of 1 on the Torino scale, meaning that, since the same thing happened to 2013 TV135 last November, there is now no asteroid scoring higher than 0.

To put this into perspective, the Torino scale of potential asteroid impacts, after 0 (no threat), goes from 1: 'A routine discovery in which a pass near the Earth is predicted that poses no unusual level of danger' to 10: "Oh shit! It's heading right for us!"

(Or, as the scale rather more sedately puts it, 'A collision is certain, capable of causing global climatic catastrophe that may threaten the future of civilization as we know it.')

Of course, there are still the known unknowns out there, giving us the very real possibility that oblivion may strike without warning, but we are no longer, as NASA's finest would say, 'in  a non-zero impact probability situation'.

That being so, apocaholics must look elsewhere for their thrills, so it is fortunate that, right on cue, footage of herds of bison (or, if you prefer, buffalo*) 'fleeing' from Yellowstone has gone viral - "Hey, fellas, the big one is about to go pop!"

Fuelled by the announcement of the Park's biggest 'quake for more than three decades, US survivalists have gone into overdrive preparing for the eruption of the Yellowstone Supervolcano and the potential resulting ash cloud, helpfully encouraged by lurid online speculation.

The explanation, according to experts, is far less exciting. Earthquakes are hardly unusual in Yellowstone and the beasts were simply following their usual winter grazing migration pattern; on the day the 'stampede' was filmed, they were unusually frisky because of the spring sunshine.

With the absence of any known asteroid threat and a quiet few months in prospect - there are only a handful of approaches closer than 1.5million km predicted for the rest of this year - apocaholics clearly have to get their kicks where they can, so look out in the coming months for dire predictions of mega-tsunami, solar flares and the release of methane clathrates.

There is, after all, no such thing as a redundant prophet of doom.

*By coincidence, the same buffalo (or bison) are currently in the news because of the proposal that the Nez Perce tribe should be allowed to hunt them inside the National Park - concerning, as it does, competing claims of animal rights, Native American culture and environmental protection, the subject has produced a veritable cornucopia of intellectual contortions from readers of the Guardian.


  1. "...preparing for the eruption of the Yellowstone Supervolcano..."

    Given how apocalyptic it'll be when it goes, I rather wonder how...

  2. I suppose any geologically-minded survivalists will have set up outside the dramatically-designated 'kill zone' and some of them are equipped with state-of-the-art bunkers, together with the firepower to fend off any less provident survivors of the devastation.

    These elaborate preparations always remind me of my father's reaction to the Government's 1980s exhortations to 'Protect and Survive'; given the elaborate plans for the preservation of local councils and central government, he said, he had no intention of going to all that effort only to emerge into a world populated by cockroaches and politicians.

  3. "the subject has produced a veritable cornucopia of intellectual contortions from readers of the Guardian."

    Which is probably why so many of us take a peek at the online Guardian every now and then. Such fun!

  4. AKH, although this collection followed the expected patterns, I have noticed recently that several guardian articles have been met with an almost unanimous chorus of disagreement in the comments.

    Perhaps those sensible souls who turn up to take a peek are starting to outnumber the unquestioningly faithful.


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