Scientists say that sensational headlines about an asteroid approaching Earth in April are misleading.
There is indeed an asteroid that is expected to pass "near" the Earth on April 29, 2020 but James O'Donoghue, a planetary scientist, says that the asteroid will not threaten humanity.
The asteroid, formally known as 52768, was discovered in 1998 and is listed by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on a list of objects that will approach Earth.
It has an estimated 4.1 kilometres in diameter—much larger than the most common asteroids—which generally do not exceed 100-200 metres in diameter. NASA diagrams appear to show the asteroid crossing the Earth's orbit.
It's also true that the object is on NASA's list of "potentially hazardous asteroids" but the definition of these asteroids is broad and technical. The bravest readers can find it here.
O'Donoghue says that asteroids are classified in this category based on distance, size and future orbit. But to put it into perspective, he created a graphic that shows what the Near Earth Object Centre considers an "approach".
Watch the graphic in the video player above.
The asteroid is expected to pass at a distance equivalent to more than 16 times the distance that separates us from the moon.
The asteroid will not be visible to the naked eye, O'Donoghue said but could be observed with binoculars and a clear sky, though it won't be easy to spot it.
If the asteroid did hit Earth, we would have a serious problem, but there's little chance of that happening. Yet that hasn't stopped some from writing headlines about the end of civilisation:
A headline in Tech Times read: NASA Warns of 144 Feet Asteroid Capable of Ending Human Civilization Fastly Approaching.
These headlines have appeared in multiple languages, with the French news site "L'Indépendant" writing: An asteroid that could end civilization will touch Earth on April 29.
Other newspapers have pointed out that the asteroid is not something to be afraid of after all.
But O'Donoghue's explanation stands out for its clarity.
"It's certainly one to watch—they all are—but some media outlets showed graphic images of a moon-sized asteroid colliding with Earth and discussed how it could wipe us out," the astronomer said.
"From that, a lot of people [understood] that it must be really close, so that's the sensationalism I was fighting with my graphic".