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An asteroid won’t hit before Election Day, even if you want it to

Published Aug 24th, 2020 3:11PM EDT
asteroid 2020
Image: Hubble Space Telescope / ESA
  • An asteroid is slated to make a very close pass of Earth on November 2nd, just one day before the 2020 US Presidential Election.
  • The asteroid’s odds of hitting Earth are less than half of one percent.
  • The rock is so small, that even if it entered Earth’s atmosphere, it would be destroyed by friction before it reached the ground.

It’s an election year here in the United States, and with the pandemic and everything else going on, there’s a lot on the line. Many people are just plain sick of politics altogether, and you’ve no doubt seen people pledging to vote for “a giant asteroid” as opposed to either candidate. If you’ve been reading any science headlines over the past few days, you might have noticed that an asteroid strike actually seems like a possibility. Thankfully (?), it isn’t.

It’s true that the space rock known as 2018VP1 is slated to make a very close pass of Earth on November 2nd, just one day before the 2020 US Presidential Election. That’s one heck of a coincidence and almost makes you wonder if 2020 is indeed destined to doom us all. That is, until you look at the details.

The good news (if you favor living) is that scientists have known about 2018VP1 since, well, 2018. Astronomers have been keeping a close eye on it, and believe it has just a 0.41% chance of actually entering Earth’s atmosphere when it passes by on November 2nd. That’s less than one half of one percent, so the odds are obviously very low, but what if it did manage to enter the atmosphere?

Well, that’s where we have some more good news. The asteroid isn’t exactly the kind of “planet killer” that would end 2020 with a bang. In fact, it’s not even a “city killer” or any kind of killer at all. Measuring just around six feet wide, it’s so tiny that it would likely completely burn up due to friction upon entering Earth’s atmosphere.

In fact, due to its small size, NASA doesn’t even consider it to be a “potentially hazardous object” at all. Scientists are typically very liberal in their application of that label, as they want to be as sure as possible that a space rock won’t cause problems if it gets too close for comfort, so it’s comforting to know that 2018VP1 doesn’t even qualify for that distinction.

It’s certainly tempting to believe that everything could possibly go wrong in 2020 will, in fact, go wrong. At this point, we have no reason to believe otherwise, but in this case, it would seem we have little to worry about. The asteroid wouldn’t cause us any problems ahead of the election. The election itself, on the other hand, will probably take care of that on its own.

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