Edmonton

'Shooting gallery': The truth about last week's big asteroid hoax

If you believed the headlines, it was the end of days. Conspiracy theories that suggested NASA was lying about a "doomsday asteroid" on a collision path with Earth ran amuck last week. Of course, it was all a hoax.

'These doomsday things have been around for a long time'

NASA has confirmed that reports of a deadly asteroid hurtling towards Earth were a hoax. (Getty Images)

If you believed the headlines, it was the end of days.

Conspiracy theories that suggested NASA was lying about a "doomsday asteroid" on a collision path with Earth ran amuck last week.

The deadly space rock was reportedly set to collide with our planet on Feb. 16,  triggering a devastating mega-tsunami, wiping out the entire human race.

Of course, it was all a hoax, and planet remains unscathed.

Fake news is nothing new in the world of astronomy. And it's only getting worse in the internet era, when false information can go viral, said Frank Florian, director of planetarium and space sciences at the Telus World of Science.

"These doomsday things have been around for a long time," he said. "And they make these predictions, and these days come and go. And we're still here.

"If something like this were to hit Earth, it could create a lot bad things and could wipe out the human species. But that's not going to happen with this one."  

Many tabloids that predicted Earth's ultimate demise depended on a pseudoscientific theory about the existence of Planet X, or Nibiru.

The idea of a disastrous encounter between Earth and a planetary object, destined to occur during the 21st century, originates with Nancy Lieder, who believed she was able to communicate with extraterrestrials through an implant in her brain.

Her predictions were pure fiction. And yet ...

"These collisions have occurred in the past and they could occur in the future as well, and the scientists are aware of the potential," Florian said.

"In fact, I have a whole list of asteroids for the next 33 years that will come close to the Earth.

"But none of them are going to hit." 

'We're always dodging bullets'

There are many asteroids in our solar system, and one passed by Earth last week. NASA first detected the celestial object, dubbed WF9, in November 2016. After studying its orbit, scientists determined it was no threat.

The asteroid, three-kilometres wide, came within 51,000,000 kilometres of the Earth.

"That's about one-third of the distance to the sun," Florian said. "It's pretty far away. It's like the planet Venus trying to hit the Earth. It's never going to happen, it's in its own orbit."

While the "doomsday asteroid" poses no risk in the foreseeable future, and skies are closely monitored for such threats, that doesn't mean humanity will never be in danger.

"We have parts of rocks and ice just floating around out there," said Florian. "And occasionally these things get perturbed or changed around in their orbits, and they can fly inward into the solar system and become a bit of a danger to the Earth.

"We're always dodging bullets. It's a bit of a shooting gallery out there."

About the Author

Wallis Snowdon

Journalist

Wallis Snowdon is a digital journalist with CBC Edmonton. She has nearly a decade of experience reporting behind her. Originally from New Brunswick, her journalism career has taken her from Nova Scotia to Fort McMurray. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca

With from Tanara Mclean