Undue Ado About Asteroid 2013 TV135

On October 8th, Russian astronomers spotted a largish near-Earth asteroid discovered that had passed Earth's vicinity three weeks earlier. For the moment, there's a 1-in-14,000 chance that it will hit us in 2032.

Update, November 4th:According to new calculations by NASA's Near-Earth Object office, the likelihood that this asteroid will collide with Earth in 2032 has dropped to about one in 21 million.

Here we go again.

Back on October 8th, when most of us were distracted by the U.S. government shutdown, Gennady Borisov and Timur Kryachko made a nifty discovery with an 8-inch (20-cm) astrograph at the Crimean Astrophysical Observatory. Their find, asteroid 2013 TV135, was only 17th magnitude as it cruised through central Camelopardalis. But it turned out to be a near-Earth asteroid that had swung by Earth on September 16th at a distance of 4.2 million miles (6.7 million km).

A visit by asteroid 2013 TV<sub>135</sub>
Based on early observations, the near-Earth asteroid circles the Sun every 2.46 years in a low-inclination, high-eccentricity orbit. It came close to Earth in mid-September 2013 and might come much closer in August 2032.
NASA / JPL / NEO Science Office
More importantly, based on its preliminary orbit, this object will be coming past Earth again — perhaps uncomfortably close — on August 26, 2032. Given its estimated diameter of 1,300 feet (400 m), 2013 TV135 could make an Earth-shaking splat if it were to hit.

But I'm not marking my long-term calendar for this one. Right now the odds of a collision are about 1 in 14,000 according to NASA (an update from the initial 1-in-63,000 odds) and 1 in 7,500 according to the University of Pisa's NEODys team.

Those orbital calculations are very rough, computed from only a few dozen observations made during the past 10 days. "TV135 will remain observable through next March," notes veteran solar-system observer David Tholen (University of Hawaii). "Most likely, this one will drop from the risk list long before then."

Nonetheless, there's plenty of hoopla over this incidental interloper, fueled initially by Russian news reports and later by sensational headlines in British tabloids.

Asteroid 2013 TV<sub>135</sub>
A short exposure with a 17-inch robotic telescope captured the asteroid 2013 TV135 (inside red circle) at 20:53 Universal Time on October 17, 2013. At the time the interloper was magnitude 17.8 and moving away from Earth. A short exposure with a 17-inch robotic telescope captured the asteroid 2013 TV135 (inside red circle) at 20:53 Universal Time on October 17, 2013. The relatively bright star just below it is a close pairing of BD+65486B and HD 37337.
Gianluca Masi / Virtual Telescope Project
In fact, all that unfounded worry is the only reason I'm writing this. NASA's celestial dynamicists even felt the need to issue a "reality check" yesterday about 2013 TV135. "The current probability of no impact in 2032 at about 99.998%," says Don Yeomans, who manages NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

Don't blame Borisov and Kryachko for this. Both are well-regarded observers — Borisov for his discovery of comet C/2013 N4 earlier this year and Kryachko for his variable-star work.

Give the bright Moon a few days to get out of the way so more observations can be taken, and I predict 2013 TV135 will become the latest in a decades-long list of asteroids that got everyone needlessly rattled.

10 thoughts on “Undue Ado About Asteroid 2013 TV135

  1. Anthony BarreiroAnthony Barreiro

    Tom, if you’re making a joke please forgive me for taking you seriously. Irresponsible misinformation and unfounded fears are not good bases for reliable public funding for science and technology. Emotionally fueled memories are short and fickle, and after multiple false alarms people simply discount everything, including realistic warnings (consider public attitudes toward global warming and climate change). It’s much better to give people accurate information and help them to assess probabilities, risks, and priorities intelligently. An educated and engaged public is more likely to support scientific research and appropriate technologies over the long term.

  2. Grant Martin

    One chance in 63,000 or 1 in 23,000 may be long odds, but even 1 in a million is too big a chance when we could be hit by a 1,300 foot (1/4 mile) diameter asteroid. If that thing were to land in the Atlantic, the resulting waves would be catastrophic for ALL coastal areas and cities.

    We need to fund a preventive strategy. We have the means of detection, and the technology to get something launched to intercept. A few billion dollars spent over the next few years would be very cheap insurance, considering the consequences.

  3. Tom Fleming

    I feel a "Tsk,Tsk" coming on. All of this chatter about the emotional impact of the impact and not a single reference to the Torino Impact Scale, the chart designed to eliminate the waste of energy associated with angst. Though the scale may have been referred to in other of which I am unaware, I’m wondering why it isn’t being employed in this article.

  4. Tom Hoffeldertom hoffelder

    "Noise and Signal. The odds of using, 10 years from now, something picked up today from random media is < 1 in 50,000. In science (outside of mathematics) it is < 1 in 30,000. On the other hand, you have more than 50% chance of using (or remembering) something that you are interested in and has been ‘in print’ more than a century." ~ Nassim Nicholas Taleb

  5. Paul Vondra

    If that 1 in 63,000 chance panned out and the Earth took a direct hit from this thing, the casualty list would be hard-put to equal that of all of humanity’s wars and conflicts between now and then. Instead of fretting about monumentally unlikely future possibilities, why can’t we try to do something about the certain ones that are actually within our power to prevent?

  6. Kelly BeattyKelly Beatty

    Tom… I considered including mention of the Torino scale, but the reality is that this object is likely to drop off the scale completely any day now. tell you what: if it doesn’t, I’ll add a graf about that!

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