Ranking asteroid threats


  • Randy Showstack


“Kiss your asteroid goodbye,” read the March 13, 1998, New York Post headline, which was far more sensational than Asteroid 1997 XF11's feared encounter with the Earth turned out to be. Fortunately, many other asteroids also have proven to be duds. But our pock-marked planet provides proof that occasional chunks of rock do shake up things on the Earth. They also suggest that it might be prudent to have some sort of method for sizing up potential danger—a type of Richter scale for understanding the risks posed by asteroids and comets.

A new scale devised for rating the potential for near-Earth object (NEO) collisions with the planet may help to better communicate risks to scientists and the general public, according to the scale's creator, Richard Binzel, professor of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.