Apophis! Musk Tweets About “Big Rock,” World Freaks Out.

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Musk Tweets About “Big Rock,” Apophis, and Sends People into Freak-Out Mode

So here’s a thing that happened. Joe Rogan, comedian and probably America’s favorite podcaster, sent out a tweet about an asteroid. The tweet shared a story from Express about for the arrival of Apophis, a large object that will come very close to Earth in about 10 years. Elon Musk saw the tweet and replied, telling his nearly 28 million followers that a “big rock will hit Earth eventually & we currently have no defense.” That caused a bit of a stir across the internets.

About “This Particular One.”

Colloquially, scientists call asteroid in question Apophis, after the Egyptian god of chaos. That’s why Musk gave the name a nod. As an aside, CNN mistakenly called him the “God of Death.” I assure you, there’s no such sensationalist journalism here on Space Porn, folks. Only hard facts. (You can tell by our logo.) Accordingly, let’s rattle off some numbers, shall we? Apophis, aka 99942, aka 2004 MN4, is 370 meters in diameter. It weighs 4×1010 kg. That means 40,000,000,000 kilograms, or 40 billion kilograms if you can’t do the maths. In standard Imperial Units, that’s equivalent to 88,184,904,874 pounds, or 88.2 billion pounds. Presently, it races toward us at a blistering 25,000 miles per hour. In other words, Apophis is very much appropriately named—if it were going to hit the Earth. Cause chaos it would. 

The asteroid won’t hit us, though. Musk was right about that. But it will come pretty damn close. NASA, which first started studying Apophis in 2004, predicts that it will pass a mere 19,000 miles above Earth (that’s lower than most satellites) in about ten years. He was also right when he said that a large asteroid will hit the Earth eventually.

Scientists estimate that an asteroid similar to Apophis hits Earth on average about once every 80,000 years or so. The Earth’s been around for four and a half billion years. Again, if you don’t want to do the maths, that means this planet has seen such impacts around 56,250 times already. If you think something that’s happened that many times isn’t going to happen again, you’re fooling yourself. However, Musk was only sort of right when he said that we currently have no defense.

Our Defense, Currently, Is Time.

When I say he was only sort of right, I mean this: Yes, if something unexpected happened in the next ten years and Apophis’ trajectory changed, we’d probably be screwed. And yes, ten years isn’t a whole lot of time in that scenario. However, if you think NASA’s not doing anything about it, though, you’re wrong.

NASA currently devotes some of its shoe-string budget (only half a damn percent of the entire U.S. Federal budget) to this problem. In fact, a guy named Lindley Johnson runs an entire department devoted to Planetary Defense Coordination. Per Johnson, “While no known asteroid larger than 140 meters in size has a significant chance of hitting Earth for the next 100 years, NASA and its partners are studying several different methodologies for deflecting a hazardous asteroid.” NASA’s website says the same thing.  

The basic idea, or plan for “defense,” at the moment is that we’ll have enough time to figure out a solution by the time any known asteroid gets close enough to be a threat. Whether that’s ten years (gods forbid some silly little space pebble from hitting Apophis and knocking it our way) or a hundred, NASA is confident that it has enough time to sort it out.

By the way, this is the first post about asteroids I’ve done in a while where I haven’t mentioned Bruce Willis or Ben Affleck… Wait… Damnit!

Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck in Armageddon

Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck in Armageddon

The Motive Behind the Musk Tweet

I know. Speculation. You’re right. I have no idea what Musk was thinking when he decided to tweet about not having any defense. Maybe he’s ramping up to some new big P.T. Barnum style revelation about SpaceX’s new Planetary Defense division and how it’s the only viable solution to this problem. I wouldn’t put it past him. He did put a Tesla Roadster into solar orbit… Or, he could have simply been making an observation. Musk does get a little “Trumpy” from time to time on the tweets, though he’s not nearly as embarrassing. 

Either way, a bunch of people saw it, and more than a few of them now think that we’re totally hosed the next time a “big rock” from space comes our way. They’re probably going to do something silly like… oh, I don’t know… charge Area 51 in a full Naruto-run or something. They’ll likely have some kind of great rallying cry, too—like “They can’t stop all of us! Let’s see them aliens!” Oh wait, the inter-nuts didn’t need any Musk tweets for that to happen. 

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Brandon Humphreys

Brandon Humphreys

I'm a wizard. I write stuff and it goes from my head into yours - Magic! Apart from that, I am the Senior Editor for Space Porn, a veteran, a rock guitarist, and a teacher.

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